Sunday, January 8
Hebrews 6:13-20: We understand that ˝hopeţ is a word central to our
Christian vocabulary, and, given the frequency of this word in the
history of Christian
literature, there is no way that understanding can be wrong.
In fact, however, Jesus Himself perhaps never used the Aramaic equivalent
of the word ˝hopeţ. The noun itself is never found in the Gospels,
and the verb is never heard from the lips of Jesus.
When, on the other hand, we turn to the sermons in the Acts of the
Apostles or read the epistles of the first Christians, ˝hopeţ is found
everywhere. It is found in Peter, Paul, John, and Hebrews..
From this observations it is safe to conclude that the idea and the
word ˝hopeţ came
to us, not from the Gospel proclaimed by Jesus, but from the Gospel proclaimed by the early Christians about Jesus.
The noun is found several times in Hebrews (3:6; 6:11,18; 7:19; 10:23),
very notably in today's reading about those ˝who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.ţ This hope the author goes on to proclaim this hope as ˝an
anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast.ţ
When we embrace Christ, we embrace hope; ˝Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithfulţ (10:23).
Hope is something to which we commit ourselves when fully we accept
the grace of Christ in our conversion and baptism. Hope is a duty.
At the same time, like any duty, we can let it slip. So in today's reading we are exhorted to lay hold of it again, or to intensify our grasp on it. Throughout our lives, God's providence arranges occasions in which we see the need to heighten our hope.
Hope is the anchor of the soul; it tugs us back; it is the stability in our lives.
Monday, January 9
Hebrews 7:1-10: Today we are introduced to ˝Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God,ţ whose name means ˝king of righteousness,ţ but who was ˝also king of Salem, meaning 'king of peace.'ţ I
take it as significant that righteousness here precedes peace.
Indeed, it is the constant teaching of Holy Scripture that righteousness precedes peace - comes before peace - that there is no peace without righteousness.
It is no great problem getting men today interested in peace. On almost
any day there are pictures of thousands of people taking part in peace
demonstrations. Past counting are the various organizations that go
to make up the ˝peace movement.ţ On all sides, high and low, may be
heard the cries for peace. Nowadays there is no shortage of interest
What is perhaps less self-evident is a corresponding interest in righteousness. Yet, the one depends on the other.
Our generation may be likened to a farmer who wants to grow a large field of corn. His interest in corn is well known and readily documented. He is a corn expert. He has read everything ever written about corn. Indeed, he has written much of it himself. People come to him to confer about corn. If a corn rally is wanted, he's our man. He conducts seminars about corn at the agricultural college. He is never late with his dues to the national corn federation. He buys TV advertising time to laud the glories of corn. Every evening his friends assemble in his living room to discuss corn. Large, colored posters of corn adorn the walls of his home. He has authored a pamphlet condemning those whom he considers nonchalant and indifferent to the merits of corn.
But when sowing time comes around, he sows his fields with green beans.
He somehow fails to understand that, in order to harvest corn, it is necessary also to plant corn. This is a basic truth of life: A man will reap what he sows (Galatians 6:7-8).
The secret is the seed.
Now the seed of peace is righteousness. Peace is not the absence of
war. (Indeed, there are times when the mere absence of war signifies
of unrighteousness.) Peace is the fruit of righteousness: ˝Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peaceţ (James
It is important, then, to get the order right. We recall the third
stanza of the hymn, ˝The God of Abraham praiseţ:
There dwells the Lord our King,
The Lord our righteousness,
Triumphant o'er the world and sin,
The Prince of Peace.
Tuesday, January 10
Hebrews 7:11-28: Today's reading introduces us to the ˝sacrificeţ of Jesus. The word ˝sacrificeţ is
ambiguous because it pertains to so many and so varied uses. We find
it in a great number of contexts.
During this next summer, for example, we will be hearing the word ˝sacrificeţ on
the radio and television pretty much everyday. Sportscasters will tell
us that so-and-so made a sacrifice bunt or hit a sacrifice fly. This example may appear trivial, but it does illustrate an essential feature of sacrifice. A man gives up something in order to advance something else. The batter who hits a sacrifice fly or a sacrifice bunt is always out, but the good of the team is advanced.
This is a substantial feature of the notion of sacrifice. A person
gives up, lets go of, something for the sake of something else. It
is the ˝priceţ he pays. Whenever we speak of sacrifice, this aspect seems always to be present. Thus, Dr. Webster defines sacrifice as ˝a
giving up, a destroying, permitting injury to, or foregoing of some
valued thing for the sake of something of greater value or having some
Thus, soldiers sacrifice for their country, and parents for their children. Sacrifice always involves both a loss and a gain.
It is the unanimous view in the New Testament that Jesus sacrificed Himself.
The view is unanimous because it came from Jesus Himself: ˝For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many,ţ and ˝˝This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for manyţ (Mark
We are redeemed by Jesus' blood, because His blood is His own life,
His inner being, His own soul: ˝You make His soul an offering for sinţ-˝ He poured out His soul unto deathţ (Isaiah
53:10,12). We were bought by His wounds, and by His stripes were we
healed, because the sufferings of Jesus were the mode in which He handed
over Himself. We were purchased by His death, because in His death He gave up Himself.
Wednesday, January 11
Matthew 4:12-17: This is the first of three pericopes about Jesus' ministry in Galilee. The next two stories are the calling of the first apostles at the Sea of Galilee (4:18-22) and the gathering of the great multitude (4:23-25) that will hear the Sermon on the Mount in the next chapter.
In the present text Matthew sets the stage for this Galilean ministry by showing it as a fulfillment of prophecy, specifically Isaiah 9:1-2. This prophecy, having to do with Gentiles finding the light, takes up the same theme as the earlier story of the pagan Magi who followed the star.
This early emphasis on the Galilean ministry is important to the structure
of Matthew. At the end of his Gospel (in stark contrast to Luke) the
revelation of the risen Christ to the Church will take place in this
same ˝Galilee of the Gentilesţ (28:7,10,16). Matthew's story of Jesus
ministry thus begins and ends in Galilee, the place where Jews and
Gentiles live together. Galilee is thus an image of the Church.
This passage sees the ministry of Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy.
Indeed, a full half of today's Gospel reading is taken up with a quotation
from the Book of Isaiah, and this quotation is preceded by the words, ˝that
it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet.ţ
It is important to look closely at this word ˝fulfilledţ with respect
to prophecy: pleroth░. That is to say, in Jesus Christ the Old
Testament has achieved the fullness of its meaning. No other meaning
can be legitimately derived from it except through the interpretive
lens of Christ. We do not attempt to find meanings in the text except
that flow directly through the "Christ filter."
I make a point of this interpretive principle because a great deal of American religion ignores it completely. It has become a commonplace in American religion to read biblical prophecy according to norms other than those of its fulfillment in Christ.
Let us be clear on this principle. It will save us from the error of reading biblical prophecy as though it were a set of regulation about contemporary politics, especially geopolitics, and most particularly the politics of the Holy Land. To read the Bible this way is to impose on the Sacred Text a meaning that it does not have.
To assert the Bible's ˝fulfillmentţ in Christ is to deny the legitimacy
of biblical meanings apart from Christ. It is to make the Bible say
what the Bible does not say.
Indeed, it is worse. I regard this non-Christian approach to the biblical
prophecy as ˝demonicţ in the strict sense of coming from the demons.
Dreadful social, economic, and political evils come from such a reading
of Holy Scripture. By their fruits do we know them.
We insist, then, that Christians are to read and understand Holy Scriptures solely through the interpretive lens called Jesus Christ. This principle is taught everywhere in the New Testament.
Thursday, January 12
Hebrews 8:1-13: Today's reading includes a quotation from the prophecy
of Jeremiah (31:31-34), the longest Old Testament passage ever quoted
in the New Testament. With its reference to the ˝new covenant,ţ this
text was clearly a favorite among the early Christians.
Indeed, Jesus used that very expression in the institution of the Last Supper, so that Christians heard the words at least once a week. Jeremiah's text was impressed on their minds. In using this expression the Lord announced His own fulfillment of a prophecy uttered six centuries earlier.
Pursuing this theme, the Apostle Paul also wrote of the ˝new covenantţ (2
Corinthians 3:6) and contrasted it with the old (Galatians 4:24).
In the prophecy of Jeremiah we observe that this new covenant consists
in the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Torah given to Moses was chiseled
in stone, but the new covenant is an inner testimony, the penmanship
of the heart. A younger contemporary of Jeremiah said it no less forcefully: ˝I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do themţ (Ezekiel 36:26-27). A later editor of the Book of Isaiah took up the theme too: ˝As for Me, says the LORD, this is My covenant with them: My Spirit who is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouthţ (Isaiah
Friday, January 13
Hebrews 9:1-15: Let us continue to consider Jeremiah. We know that when Jerusalem was about to be surrounded by the Babylonians in 587, Jeremiah went into the Temple and removed the Ark of the Covenant, which he carried to Mount Nebo and concealed in a cave (2 Maccabees 2:4-5). Now among the objects contained in the Ark of the Covenant was a golden urn in which was placed a part of the Manna that fed the people in the desert.
This Manna was the heavenly bread, the ˝bread of angelsţ (Psalms 77 :23-25). It was concealed in that golden urn; it was the ˝hidden Manna,ţ and
Jeremiah hid it still further in a cave. In the final analysis, however,
it is not man that hides the Manna. In its very nature it is hidden
from man, because the Manna is the bearer of mystery. It contains the
mystery of God, who becomes man's food. He feeds His children with
His own life. We feed on this Manna in the Holy Eucharist, as is obvious
in John 6, but it is also the eternal life of heaven (Revelation 2:17).
In addition, this Manna is the grace of prayer, as confessed in the
great hymn ˝Glorious Things of Thee Are Spokenţ:
Thus deriving from their banner,
Light by night, and shade by day,
Safe they feed upon the Manna,
Which he gives them when they pray.
The Manna is also God's Holy Word, proclaimed in the Scriptures:
For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,
And do not return there,
But water the earth,
And make it bring forth and bud,
That it may give seed to the sower
And bread to the eater,
So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth (Isaiah 55:10-11).
Saturday, January 14
Hebrews 9:16-28: For the ancients, blood was not simply a bodily fluid.
It was the source of the body's life. It was, for all practical purposes,
the soul: ˝For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soulţ (Leviticus
For the ancients, blood was a thing of the spirit. As the source of man's life, it was the blood that joined man to his Creator. Blood was fleshly, but it was also godly. It was the link between man and his Creator. When it flowed out of his body, man died. He was no longer linked to his Creator, so he died.
This intuition explains why, in the Bible, all sacrifices of atonement are blood sacrifices. All sin offerings involve the shedding of blood. Only blood can mediate atonement. Whenever the link between God and man has been sundered, there must be the shedding of blood.
In the case of Jesus, however, the blood is ˝godlyţ in a new sense, because of the Incarnation. If the shedding of human blood, according to Genesis 4, cries out to God, how much more the blood of God's Son. Inasmuch as the ˝life is in the blood,ţ the
pouring out of Jesus' blood is the pouring out of the life that God
assumed in our flesh. This is the sacrifice by which we have access
According to the moving hymn of Horatius Bonar in 1855,
Mine is the sin, but Thine the righteousness;
Mine is the guilt, but Thine the cleansing blood.
Here is my robe, my refuge, and my peace;
Thy blood, Thy righteousness, O Lord, my God.