Exclusively published to the Touchstone website each week, these Daily Reflections are brief commentaries on the lectionary readings contained in the St. James Daily Devotional Guide. The reflections are penned by Patrick Henry Reardon, editor of the Daily Devotional Guide and a senior editor of Touchstone. Father Reardon provides here a very brief directional clue for one of the texts each day. Long-time readers of the Daily Devotional Guide will find these reflections an additional help to their reading of Holy Scripture which they can print and keep with their Guide.
The Daily Reflections will be updated weekly.
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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 17:11).
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 to God.
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.
Sunday, January 15
Hebrews 10:1-10: This text, which is about the salvific obedience of Jesus, prompts a critical distinction on the subject of obedience: the difference between the obedience of law and the obedience of faith.
Most of us do not like talk about obedience, which is an attitude we acquired in childhood, I suppose, by being sent to bed two hours earlier than our parents. We went to bed, of course, because our parents were bigger and stronger than we were, and they had their ways of enforcing the mandate. We submitted, but we submitted to force. The rules by which we were governed remained, in some sense, outside ourselves. That is to say, our early experience of obedience, an experience that forms our attitude toward the subject, causes us to think of obedience in terms of law.
This means that our attitude toward obedience is one of the matters in our life that still stand outside of the Gospel, because the Gospel does not speak of obedience in terms of law. Indeed, the obedience of the faith is explicitly contrasted with obedience to the law.
The obedience of Jesus was not based on the law, but on His relationship to the Father. That is to say, it was the obedience of faith, because Jesus is ˝the author and perfecter of faith.ţ Jesus acted in trust of His Father. He handed Himself over to God's will in an obedient trust.
The obedience of the law is defined by the terms of the law, but the obedience of faith is not defined by limits. It is defined by a personal, trusting relationship to someone else. It has no limits. Jesus did not act out of fear of the Father, but out of love of the Father.
In this He serves as our own model of the obedience of faith. If we obey out of fear instead of out of love, we return to obedience to the law, and by the law is no man justified.
Monday, January 16
Hebrews 10:11-39: Today's reading provides an occasion to reflect that Jesus did not start a religion. He started a church. That is to say, He started an organized religion, in the sense of an ˝organismţ devoted to the worship of God. An immediate inference of this reflection is that corporate worship is not simply one of the things that Christians do. Much less is corporate worship an optional feature in the Christian life. Corporate worship is, rather, the defining act of Christian lives.
Today's reading makes three points with respect to the corporate worship of Christians (verses 24-25):
First, katanoĐmen: ˝let us consider one another.ţ Let us ˝take thought,ţ that is to say, how we may be of service to one another.
One important reason that we do not absent ourselves from the Church's corporate worship is that it will certain harm others. Each of us is obligated in charity to be present to worship with others, no matter how we ourselves may feel about it. Sharing in the corporate worship is a ministry we do, not simply for ourselves, but for one another. Consequently, to be casual, nonchalant, or negligent about the Church's corporate worship is a sin against our brothers and sisters, whom we are bound in charity to support and encourage.
Second, parakalountes: ˝exhorting one another.ţ This verb, parakaleo, refers to exhortation in the sense of encouragement. This is a contribution we make to the corporate worship simply by coming to it. It is our simplest contribution to the experience of the congregation.
It is quite beside the point, then, to say, ˝I don't get anything out of the corporate worship.ţ ˝Getting something outţ has nothing whatever to do with the corporate worship. We come to worship in order to give,, first of all, not receive. The Christian is not a taker; he is a giver. We come to praise God and to help one another praise God in such a way that all of us are encouraged in the life of faith. We come to the worship in order to ˝spur one another onţ (NIV), ˝to stir up one anotherţ (RSV).
Third, ethos: ˝not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some.ţ This word, translated in the KJV as ˝manner,ţ is perhaps better rendered as ˝customţ or ˝habit.ţ (It is the obvious root of our English, ˝ethics.ţ) The author is saying that ˝someţ people have stayed away from the corporate worship for so long that it has become a matter of habit and custom. Obviously, he considers it a bad habit!
The person who takes lightly his loyalty to Christ and the Church is pictured here as an easy-going, relaxed person, who apparently feels that God too is easy-going and relaxed. Because he no longer takes his baptismal commitment seriously, he quietly presumes that God no longer takes that commitment seriously.
This is a very big mistake, because there is no sin more dangerous than the neglect of divine grace: ˝For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins . . . Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?ţ
Tuesday, January 17
Hebrews 11:1-12: In his treatment of the heroes of faith, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews spends more time on Abraham than on any other character in Holy Scripture. We may consider this fact in three respects:
First, let us consider us consider it as a matter of history: Why was Abraham so important for the early Christians? This question must be answered by recourse to another question-namely, if, as the early Christians believed, Jesus was the fulfillment of a promise, to whom was the promise made? And they answered chiefly with two names: David and Abraham. Unlike the covenant with Moses, God's covenants with Abraham and David were chiefly covenants of promise. This is why Matthew begins his Gospel, which we shall soon be reading in the Advent season, ˝The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.ţ These introductory words are a key to the understanding of Matthew.
God's promises to Abraham and David differ in several respects, but one of those differences is especially significant. God's promise to David had about it a quality we may call singular. It involved only a single person. It was the promise that a king, one of David's sons, would ever sit on the Davidic throne. That is to say, the promise to David was messianic, or Christological. This promise was fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, David's Son who is enthroned forever at God's right hand. This is the promise of which the Psalmist speaks, ˝The Lord said to my Lord, ˝Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.ţ
But if Jesus was the fulfillment of the promise made to David, the early Christians reasoned, He must also be the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham. And God's promise to Abraham was different. This promise involved more than one person. It involved all the children of Abraham. It was the promise a large multitude. What does Genesis say? ˝Then He brought him outside and said, 'Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.' And He said to him, 'So shall your descendants be.'ţ
That is to say, God's promise to Abraham was not only Christological, but also ecclesiological. It involved not only a Messiah, but also a Church. It was the promise of a universal, international community. It was the promise of a truly catholic assembly of every tribe and tongue, a church that included all the families of the earth: ˝in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed
This was the question put to the early Christians: If Jesus is David's true son and the fulfillment of the promise made to David, then who are the true children of Abraham and the fulfillment of the promise made to him? This question brings us to point two.
Second, let us consider a theological question: Who are the true children of Abraham? Was it just the Jews? The apostles, and chiefly St. Paul, saw no reason to think so. First, most of the Jews, and certainly the bulk of the Jewish leaders, actually rejected the claims of Jesus. If they rejected the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham, how could they be counted the true children of Abraham? Second, since the possession of eternal life came from union with Jesus in faith, why should only Jews be counted children of Abraham? Had not John the Baptist affirmed that God was able even from stones to raise children to Abraham?
The apostles took seriously one very important fact of biblical history: Abraham was justified by faith, long before the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. Why, then, should the true children of Abraham, who lived by the faith of Abraham, be obliged to observe the Law of Moses? After all, Abraham had never observed that Law, but he was justified.
Third, let us consider a moral question: What are we to do about this historical fact and theological truth. Please understand: Justification is not an act that takes place in God. Justification takes place in us. When we are justified we change, not God! If we are to be children of Abraham, there is something that we must do. What is that?
Jesus told his enemies, ˝If you were the children of Abraham, you would do the works of Abraham.ţ What are these ˝works of Abrahamţ that we must do as children of Abraham? They may be summed up in the expression ˝walking in faith.ţ This means committing our entire destiny, all our hope in life and death, into the hands of God our Maker and Redeemer. Like Abraham, we are to walk before God and be perfect.
Like Abraham, we do not know where God will take us, though we may be certain that He will take us places we never intended to go. In this sense, we can no more plan our lives than we can plan our parenthood. To live by faith means to leave to God the disposition of destiny, as we await that ˝city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.ţ
Wednesday, January 18
Hebrews 11:13-29: Arguably one of the most puzzling verses in Holy Scripture is that which tells why Moses' mother did not drown him at birth. Just to introduce this subject as a matter of inquiry, but without recommending the accuracy of the translation, I quote the relevant verse in the New King James Version: "And when she saw he was a beautiful child, she hid him three months" (Exodus 2:2). Now when I describe this statement as puzzling, I have two considerations chiefly in mind. First, taken as a plain assertion--"he was beautiful, so she hid him"--the verse just won't do. All babies are beautiful to their mothers, and no mother wants to drown her newborn child. There is surely something more at work here. Since the beauty in Moses' case is given as the reason for his parents' refusal to obey Pharaoh's command ("Every son who is born you will cast into the river"), we suspect that a deeper, subtler significance is intended.
Second, ancient interpreters did, fact, tend to treat this text as a puzzle. Though differing among themselves somewhat with respect to details, they agreed that its meaning is more profound and mysterious than first appears.
We may begin with the New Testament witnesses, Stephen and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, this latter text appearing in today's reading. In their reading of this verse, both these early Christians maintained the adjective asteios, which the Septuagint used to describe Moses. Although this word is most often translated as "well formed" or "beautiful" (as in the NKJV), each of these sources recognized that the appearance of Moses was of a quality different from merely human beauty.
Thus, after the adjective asteios, Stephen added the qualifying expression to Theo, "to God," which effectively changes the sense of the verse to "well pleasing to God" (Acts 7:20). Moreover, Stephen described Moses himself, his relationship to the Lord, not his mother's assessment of the child. In fact, Stephen does not even mention Moses' mother.
In the Epistle to the Hebrews, where the appearance of the newborn Moses is given as the reason why his parents "were not afraid of the king's command," the entire context is that of faith: "By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months by his parents, because they saw that he was a beautiful child" (11:23 emphasis added). Here the point is very subtle indeed. When the parents looked upon little Moses, they were able to discern "by faith" some aspect of the child's appearance that was not otherwise obvious. We recall that this section of Hebrews began by defining faith as "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of *things not seen*" (11:1). Faith gave Moses' parents a special discernment in regard the child.
These early Christian interpretations of Exodus 2:2 are not unlike those found among ancient Jewish readers of the text. For example, Philo wrote that the newborn Moses "had a beauty more than human" (de Vita Moysi 1.9), and Josephus apparently agreed (Antiquities 2.9.6 █224), adding that Moses' mother felt no pangs in childbirth (2.9.4 █218). Rashi, in his commentary on Exodus, went even further, speculating that the house was filled with light at Moses' birth. Indeed, he wrote, when Pharaoh's daughter opened the little basket floating on the Nile, she beheld the Shekinah, the luminous cloud of the divine glory.
All of these readings, differing among themselves in detail, are nonetheless in accord in their search for a deeper, subtler meaning in the Bible's description of the newborn Moses. They all agree, furthermore, that the appearance of the newborn Moses was revelatory of God's purpose.
I respectfully offer here another approach to the passage.
Most of the authors that I have cited (Rashi the exception) based their interpretations of Exodus 2:2 on the Septuagint translation. For my part I suggest that we should look more closely at the underlying Hebrew text, which asserts of Moses' mother, wattere' 'oto ki tov hu'. This clause literally says, "and she saw that he was good."
The most obvious parallels to this passage, I submit, are the several places where the Book of Genesis says of Creation, "And God saw that it was good," wayyar' 'Elohim ki tov (Genesis 1:10,12,18,21,25,31). It is remarkable that both passages employ the identical predicate (ra'ah) and exactly the same objective clause (ki tov). That is to say, each of these books begins with the selfsame assertion, ra'ah ki tov - " . . . saw that . . . was good." Moreover, this verbal correspondence between Genesis and Exodus, too manifest for doubt, is certainly deliberate on the author's part. Thus, God's salvific deed in Exodus is here set in intentional parallel with His creative work in Genesis. I propose that this theological harmony pertains to the deeper, subtler significance of the text.
Thursday, January 19
Hebrews 11:30-40: When the author of Hebrews speaks of a ˝better resurrection,ţ I understand the reference in contrast to other resurrections recorded in Holy Scripture, the various restorations to life recorded elsewhere in Holy Scripture. These latter would include the young son of the widow of Zarephtha (1 Kings 17), the son of the Shunammite lady (2 Kings 4), the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5), the only son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7), Lazarus of Bethany (John 11), and the lady named Tabitha (Acts 9). In all of these examples, those who were raised from the dead came back to this life, the life in the still mortal flesh. Eventually they were all obliged to die again.
This is surely not what our author calls a better resurrection. What he clearly has in mind is the final resurrection, the resurrection prophesied by the mother and her seven martyred sons in 2 Maccabees 7. All of these eight people, as well as the elder Eliezar in the previous chapter of 2 Maccabees, went to their horrible deaths professing faith in the resurrection unto eternal life. This is the ˝betterţ resurrection.
The resurrection is the radical doctrine of the Christian Church, and it must not be in doubt. Suffering and death for the sake of the truth will not be sustained by a watery half-truth, some vague and general sense of assurance. The only basis for the life of the people of God is the rock-solid fact of the resurrection unto eternal life. To understand the seriousness of their commitment to the resurrection, Christian need to be reminded of these things. If a person is going to be intent on his adherence to the Lord Jesus, he will many times find no other thought to sustain him than the thought of the resurrection. This was the doctrine that sustained the Maccabees when they stood up to Antiochus IV in the second century before Christ, and it was the doctrine that sustained the first century Christians who were slaughtered by Nero.
When the Christian says ˝alleluia,ţ therefore, he makes his most profound statement of faith, because ˝alleluiaţ is the song of the resurrection.
Friday, January 20
Hebrews 12:1-11: Jesus knew where He was going when He began Holy Week and the Way of the Cross, and that vision of the final glory is what permitted Him to step onto that dolorous path-˝for the joy that was set before Him.ţ He took up the cross, not for the sake of temporary suffering, but because of the final joy. Hebrews speaks of this truth elsewhere too: ˝But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyoneţ (2:9).
Similarly, when Christians are called upon to endure, they are not called on to so for the sake of endurance, but for the sake of the future glory, ˝we may be partakers of His holiness.ţ We look to Jesus as our model: ˝though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He sufferedţ (5:8).
This is why today's text turns our attention to Jesus--aphorontes eis ton Iesoun, translated variously as ˝looking unto Jesusţ (KJ, RSV), ˝our eyes fixed on Jesusţ (Phillips, NIV, NEB, NAB), and ˝let us not lose sight of Jesusţ (JB). If one is going to live as a Christian, this is where he keeps his gaze. Jesus is the joy set before us. He is the author and perfecter of our faith.
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