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 21
Hebrews 12:18-29: Today's reading describes the Christian's experience of worship. To pray as a Christian is to take one's place in a worship that is already going on. Strictly speaking, the worship does not begin when we begin the worship. The worship is already in progress. It has been going on since the dawn of time, ˝when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.ţ To worship as a Christian is to step into a worship that is of heaven, with angels and archangels and the spirits of just men made perfect.
To pray as a Christian is to come to Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. To be a Christian is to have citizenship in a city of prayer, a city whose very existence consists in the worship of God. It has no temple, that city, ˝for the Lord God almighty and the Lamb are the temple thereof.ţ
To worship as a Christian is to ˝come to the myriads of angels in festive assembly,ţ along with the Four Living Creatures, and four and twenty elders who encircle the throne, singing with loud voice, ˝Worthy is the Lamb!ţ
Worshipping in this heavenly assembly is not one of the things that Christians do. Such worship is the thing that Christians do. It is the most essential act of Christian existence.
The Lamb joins us to Himself. Our knees are bent ˝in the name of Jesus.ţ To adore as a Christian is to adore God in Jesus: ˝For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through usţ (2 Corinthians 1:20).
To pray as a Christian is to be in living communion with all believers who have gone before us; indeed, our prayer discerns that they have never really left us. They are in worship before the throne of God, and when we pray, we pray with them. These are the church of the firstborn whose names are written in heaven; these are the spirits of the righteous made perfect. Such prayer is the communion of the saints.
To worship as Christians is to join in at the deepest level of created being, which is the eternal praise of God. This is the bedrock depth of existence. Heaven and earth will pass away. The praise of God will never pass away. The deepest word of the Christian vocabulary is Alleluia, ˝Praise the Lord.ţ
The proper sentiment for the worship of God is not ˝When will this be over?ţ but rather ˝Take away this veil, that we may worship Thee forever. The appropriate mindset for Christian worship is ˝Oh, send forth Thy light and Thy truth, and let them lead me; let them bring me unto Thy holy hill and to Thy tabernacle; that I may go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy; and upon the harp will I praise Thee, O God, my God.ţ
Sunday, January 22
The author of Hebrews knew in some detail the events in the life of Jesus. He refers to Jesus' birth (including the visitation of the angels-1:6), His sufferings and death, His resurrection. He even describes the agony in the garden. This author appears to know more about the events of Jesus' life in particulars that are not found in any other New Testament epistle. Indeed, the very name ˝Jesusţ is found here more than in any other epistle in the New Testament.
This familiarity renders it unsurprising, therefore, that our author was familiar with the fact that Jesus died outside the walls of Jerusalem: ˝For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.ţ
It is noteworthy that this detail is found in a work associated with Italy (cf. 13:25), because it is also found in a Gospel composed in Italy: exagousin avton--They led Him out to crucify Himţ (Mark 15:20).
There was nothing abnormal about that detail. It was usual for executions to take place outside of city limits (Leviticus 24:14; Numbers 15:35-36; 1 Kings 21:13; Acts 7:58).
This detail also influenced the way that Matthew and Luke preserved the parable of the wicked vineyard tenants. Unlike Mark, both of these evangelists say that the Son was murdered outside the vineyard.
Jesus in His Passion, then, was supremely the ˝Outsider.ţ Jesus is not of this world, and the Gospels are insistent on this point. No other human being in history has spoken of himself as ˝comingţ into this world from somewhere else: ˝the Son of Man came, not to be served, but to serveţ-˝I have come that they may have lifeţ-and so on. A dominant feature of the consciousness of Jesus is the awareness of having come from elsewhere.
And so in the manner of His death. He died as an outsider, and in this detail the author of Hebrews perceives a call to Christian, a summons to go forth and become outsiders with Jesus: ˝Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.ţ
Monday, January 23
Romans 1:1-10: Paul's eloquent introduction (verses 1-7) is easily the longest, most elaborate, and most detailed in all his writings. This feature reflects the fact that Romans, unlike Paul's earlier letters to Thessaloniki, Galatia, Philippi, and Corinth, was not composed for the purpose of addressing questions and problems of the congregation to which it was sent. Although Paul evidently had several friends in Rome (as we see in the greetings sent to many individuals in chapter 16), this epistle does not show the Apostle familiar with the specific situation of the church in that city nor intent on dealing with particular problems there.
The Epistle to the Romans is, rather, a sort of theological treatise on a theme that had been thrust toward the center of Paul's interest and concern during the previous six or so years, ever since the Galatian crisis during the early fifties-namely, justification through faith, apart from the observance of the Mosaic Law. Paul's concentration on this theme in no way indicates that the Church at Rome was subject to the same or a similar crisis.
Paul's name is the only one that appears as an author of this epistle, even though he actually dictated it to Tertius (16:22). We may contrast this feature with Paul's earlier inclusion of Timothy, Silvanus, and Sosthenes as joint "authors" (1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Philippians 1:1, 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1) and his later inclusion of Timothy in the letter to the Colossians (1:1).
In the Epistle to the Romans it is clear that Paul thinks of his evangelization of the eastern Mediterranean basin as pretty much completed. The churches founded in that region he had now handed over to the care of the pastors whom he appointed, and he now trusted them to transmit the Gospel to the following generations. (Except for those churches destroyed by Muslim invasions, this has been the case, in fact. The Gospel still lives vibrantly in the Pauline congregations of the Near and Middle East.)
Paul is now ready to turn his attention to the western end of the Mediterranean basin, especially Italy and Spain, and this epistle, borne to its destination by the trusted deaconess Phoebe (16:1), would serve to introduce Paul to those churches, while he himself completed one last task that he had appointed for himself in the east-namely, the transmission to Jerusalem of the collection of alms that had been made among the Pauline churches.
In this epistle's initial greeting we observe its emphasis on Christology, its avowal of the historical Jesus, "born of the seed of David according to the flesh," and the Christ of faith, "declared [horisthentos, not "predestined" or prooristhentos] to be Son of God with power." These are two descriptions of the same Jesus Christ, of course, along with the recognition that His resurrection from the dead (verse 4) is the historical fact manifesting and demonstrating His true identity (cf. Acts 2:34-36; 1 Corinthians 15:45; Philippians 3:10).
Paul's reference to "the obedience to the faith" (verse 5) is more literally "the obedience of faith" (hyupakoe pisteos), an appositional genitive (˝the obedience which is faithţ) indicating that faith is active, not simply passive; it is commitment and not just reception (cf. 10:17; 16:26). It is not a mere assent of the intellect but a dedication of the heart.
Tuesday, January 24
Romans 1:11-17: For some time now, Paul has wanted to come to Rome (verses 10-13), where the local Christian congregation was already famous among Christians elsewhere (verse 8). The church at Rome seems first to have been established by Roman Jews who had been present at the original Pentecost in Jerusalem (Acts 2:10; cf. Tacitus, Annals 15.44). Indeed, this early date for the founding of the church at Rome is supported by the funerary inscription of a Christian woman, Pomponia Graecina, in the early forties, well before the arrival of the apostles in that city.
Although these early Christian founders had been expelled from Rome in the general expulsion of the Jews in A.D. 49 (Acts 18:1; Suetonius, "Claudius" 25), it is reasonable to suppose that some of them returned there after the death of Claudius in the year 54. As to the actual composition of the church at Rome when Paul wrote this epistle four years later, we can say little that is certain. Nonetheless, on the presumption that Gentile Christians at Rome were not affected by the expulsion in 49, we may guess that there were more Gentile Christians than Jewish at Rome when Paul wrote this epistle very early in the year 58.
It is not clear who was pastoring Rome at this time, much less who was the chief pastor in that city. The absence of any greetings to Simon Peter in this epistle would be utterly unintelligible if the latter had already arrived in Rome. Indeed, our earliest direct evidence for Peter's presence in Rome does not come until the early sixties (1 Peter 5:13).
Especially puzzling is this epistle's lack of any reference to Linus (2 Timothy 4:21), identified by Irenaeus of Lyons (Adversus Haereses 3.3.3) as the first bishop of Rome. (We run into an identical difficulty early in the second century, when Ignatius of Antioch, in whose letters the bishops of the local churches are otherwise named, failed to name the bishop of Rome. This aspect of the early history of the church at Rome remains mysterious.)
Paul is very conscious that his own faith is shared by the believers at Rome (verse 12), even though he had not evangelized there. This consciousness is an important key to the interpretation of this epistle, because it implies that the doctrines presumed in this work pertained to the general deposit of faith common to all the early preachers of the Gospel. This shared deposit of faith formed the context within which Paul addressed the major preoccupation of this epistle, as well as the evangelism (evangelisthasthai) that he hoped to accomplish there (verse 15).
This last reference brings Paul to the subject of the Gospel (evangelion) in verse 16. The Gospel means both "salvation" (soteria) and "righteousness" (dikaiosyne), a pairing that is common in Holy Scripture (cf. Psalms 98 :2; Isaiah 45:21; 51:5-8; 56:1; 61:10-11). The Good News is not a simple message, even less a religious philosophy; it is "the power of God" (dynamis Theou). It is God's power working through His word, giving godly shape to history (1 Corinthians 2:4; 4:20).
In the Epistle to the Romans, the "salvation" effected by God's power in the Gospel most often refers to a future reality (5:9-10; 8:24; 10:8,13; 11:11,26; 13:11) rather than an accomplished fact. That is to say, in this epistle salvation something to which Christians look forward rather than something they have already received. Paul's perspective on this point will shift somewhat over the next two years (cf. Ephesians 2:8).
The Gospel reveals God's reconciliation of man to Himself (verse 17), a reconciliation without which man is the object of the divine wrath (verses 18 and following). The righteousness of God (3:5,21,22,25,26; 10:3) is the divine quality and act by which He renders men righteous. This is what the Gospel reveals.
The expression "from faith to faith" seems to mean "through faith and for the sake of faith." That is to say, salvation pertains to faith, from beginning to end. This is how the justified man lives.
Wednesday, January 25
Romans 1:18-32: In order to assess the "power" (dynamisI) of the Gospel, Paul now describes the human state without the Gospel. Neither Judaism nor classical paganism, the Apostle argues, whatever their other accomplishments, have been able to attain or preserve moral integrity. If the Jew, enlightened by God's Law, has been unable to do this (as Paul will argue in chapter 2), much less could the Greek or Roman.
Paul begins with these pagans, providing a stunning description of the depravity of his age. This description is colored by Paul's perception as a Jew (indeed, we note his interjection of a standard Jewish doxology in verse 25), because his comments coincide with the assessment that other Jews of antiquity rendered with respect to paganism. In these lines of the epistle, we hear the voice of the Maccabees two and a half centuries earlier. Paul, like most Jews of his time, regarded the pagan world as "abandoned," "handed over," "forsaken" by God (verses 24,26,28).
The moral depravity of the age was a revelation (apokalyptetai) of the divine wrath against idolatry (verse 18; Isaiah 30:27-33). Following the argument in the Book of Wisdom (Wisdom of Solomon) 13:1-9, Paul insists that ˝somethingţ about God is knowable in the works of Creation (verses 19-20). Indeed, this something is not only knowable, it is also "known" (to gnostonI), so that man is inexcusable in not recognizing it.
Paul is not talking here about a personal knowledge of God, which requires faith (cf. Hebrews 11:3,5-6; 1 Corinthians 1:21), but a factual knowledge of God's existence and certain of His predicates (verse 20; Acts 14:15-17). Such factual knowledge about God is ineluctable except to those who have completely blinded their hearts (verse 21; Ephesians 4:17). These latter refuse to acknowledge what they cannot help knowing. Therefore, they decline to praise God or to thank Him, turning instead to false gods (verse 23; Psalms 106 :20; Deuteronomy 4:16-18). These are gods of their own making, to whom, they are aware, they will never have to render an account
This idolatrous darkening of the heart begins with the entertainment of deceptive thoughts (verse 21), but it soon finds expression in man's very body. It leads directly to sexual immorality (verse 24; Wisdom 14:22-27). That is to say, the mendacity and illusions of the human mind produce a mendacity and illusion in the human flesh, and this corporeal untruthfulness, this fleshly illusion, is the very essence of homosexuality. Those unable to recognize the intelligent design of nature can hardly be expected to honor the most elementary markings of the human body (verses 26-28).
Thus, homosexual behavior, which is "against nature" (para physin, contra naturam-verse 26), is the social and cultural progeny of an engendering idolatry. Other sexual sins, such as fornication, at least show deference to the structure of nature. The homosexual vice, however, by refusing to do so, is particularly vile. It is the very embodying of a lie.
Besides sexual turpitude, idolatry leads to all sorts of their sins (verses 29-31). Paul is not speculating here. Having traveled through the cities of the Greco-Roman world, having heard the confessions of his converts (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11), the Apostle is immediately familiar with these sins.
We should bear in mind that Paul, in his assessment of the world of his time, is speaking of society as a whole, not every single individual within it. He is not saying that every single pagan in the world is morally depraved. He is saying, rather, that pagan society is morally depraved.
Nor, when he speaks of the sins of homosexuals, does Paul mean that in each case that person's sins are the result of his own personal idolatry. He is saying, rather, that the homosexual vice, regarded as a social phenomenon, is the symptom of a deeper, truly radical sin, the sin of idolatry. Consequently, it is precarious to use Paul's arguments here as applying directly to individuals that may be struggling with temptations to this vice; this struggle does not mean that these individuals are guilty of idolatry. When he treats the homosexual vice as a symptom of idolatry, Paul is describing the manifest state of pagan society without the Gospel, not each individual's state of soul.
In addition, the divine condemnation is deserved, not only by those who do these terrible things, but also by those who approve of them, those non-judgmental types who embrace the pale, flaccid I-will-not-impose-my-morality-on-others theory. God's judgment falls, then, not only on the malefactors themselves, but on the society that condones, excuses, permits, or approves such malefaction.
Thursday, January 26
Romans 2:1-16: Having described the moral failings of paganism, Paul now turns to the Jews. Woe to them if they pass judgment (verse 1), because they too have failed to measure up. Jew and Greek stand before God on level ground, in fact (verses 9-10). The Jew's possession of the Torah, in which God reveals His moral will, is no guarantee that the Jew is superior to the Greek (verses 12-16).
Here Paul twice addresses the Jew as "man," anthropos (verses 1,3), indicating that he too is of the common clay, an heir of Adam, that first and fallen anthropos. Jewish blood is no guarantee of moral superiority over other men (cf. Matthew 3:8; John 8:39; Galatians 2:15). The Jew too, says Paul, is called to repentance, metanoia (verse 4; Wisdom 11:23), because his own heart is just as "impenitent" (verse 5).
In this epistle, the theme of which is justification through faith, the Apostle insists that the Lord "will render to each man according to his deeds" (literally "works," erga-verse 6; Psalms 62 :13; Proverbs 24:12), and he goes on to speak of "the patience of good work" (verse 7). Even this early in the epistle, then, Paul closes the door to any antinomian interpretation of it.
Those who do good works are said to be seeking (zetousin) "glory and honor and incorruptibility" (verse 7). This incorruptibility, aphtharsia, is to be contrasted with the corruption of death, introduced into the world by sin (5:12).
The translation of the word aphtharsia as "immortality" (as in the KJV) is misleading, because immortality suggests something immaterial and essentially spiritual (as when we speak of "the immortality of the soul"). Aphtharsia, in contrast, refers in this context to the spiritual transformation of matter itself, of which the formal and defining example is the resurrected body of Christ. "Incorruptibility" is a property of the risen flesh of the Christian (1 Corinthians 15:42,50,53,54). Introduced into human experience by the resurrection of Christ, this incorruptibility reverses the power of death. Indeed, the resurrection of the body is the final act in man's salvation and the great object of his hope. (This is also the reason why, as we have seen, sentences about "salvation" normally appear in this epistle in the future tense. The fullness of salvation comes in the resurrection of our bodies.)
To those who are seeking salvation Paul contrasts those who are only seeking themselves, searching for some kind of self-fulfillment (eritheia) outside of God's will (verse 8).
In verse 10 Paul returns to the importance of good works (literally "working the good"-ergazomenos to agathon). Salvation through faith is not for the lazy. Grace is free, but it is not cheap.
In chapter one Paul had spoken about the revelation of God's existence through nature. Now he writes of the revelation of God's moral law through nature (verses 14-15). His juxtaposition of Natural Law with the Mosaic Law does not mean that every particular of the latter can be discerned in the former; he means simply that the Natural Law can be known by man's conscience and that those who have only the Natural Law will be judged according to that law, just as the Jew will be judged according to the Mosaic Law.
With respect to this revelation of God's moral will through nature, the third-century Christian apologist Origen wrote: "There is nothing amazing about it if the same God has implanted in the souls of all men the same truths which He taught through the Prophets and the Savior. He did this in order that every man might be without excuse at the divine judgment, having the requirement of the law written in his heart" (Against Celsus 1.4).
Friday, January 27
Romans 2:17-29: Paul continues talking to the imaginary "man" that he earlier addressed (verses 1,3). This man calls himself a Jew (verse 17). This man, whom he had earlier reprimanded for judging others, Paul now taunts with a series of claims that were commonly made by the Jews: knowledge of the true God and His will, confidence in the Law, a superior moral insight, and the consequent right to provide guidance to the rest of the world (verses 18-20).
Paul does not deny the validity of any of these claims, but they do raise in his mind a series of concomitant questions that he now puts to the Jew (verses 21-23). The latter's behavior, after all, leaves a lot to be desired. Indeed, the bad conduct of the Jew, as Isaiah had long ago remarked, has brought reproach of the God of the Jews (verse 24; Isaiah 52:5 in LXX). Their defining sign, circumcision, has been rendered morally meaningless by their insouciance to the rest of the Torah (verse 25).
Now, asks Paul, how is the circumcised Jew who disobeys the Law of Moses morally superior to the uncircumcised Gentile who observes the Natural Law written in his heart (verses 26-27)?
Throughout this diatribe the Apostle is continuing the very argument that the Old Testament prophets had directed to the Chosen People ever since Amos and Isaiah eight hundred years before-namely, that a strict adherence to the prescribed rituals is no adequate substitute for the moral renewal of the heart and a blameless life pleasing to God. Far from rejecting the Old Testament here, Paul is appealing to one of its clearest themes (Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6; Micah 6:6-8; Jeremiah 4:4; 9:24-25; Ezekiel 44:9).
The true circumcision is internal. This is the "secret" (krypton) that the Lord sees (verse 16). It is the heart that must be circumcised (verses 29-30; Acts 7:51). The true moral renewal of man, then, is not the fruit of a greater and more intense moral effort. It comes from the presence of the Holy Spirit in the circumcised heart.
In his contrast of two circumcisions, Paul invokes the distinction between letter and Spirit that he had used a year earlier to describe the difference between the Old Testament dispensation and the Christian Gospel (2 Corinthians 3:6). The circumcision or pruning of the human heart places that heart under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, whose grace causes the human being to become a child of God (8:15; Galatians 4:6). The Gospel, then, is not simply a source of new moral information; it is the internal principle of a new mode of life.
Paul's distinction between a Jew in the flesh and a Jew in the Spirit puts us in mind of Jesus' insistence, in the Sermon on the Mount, that a believer's existence is defined, not by his external observance of a religious code, but by his internal relationship to the heavenly Father (Matthew 6:1,4,6,8,14,18). Indeed, the same expression "secret" (krypton) is used in both places (verses 16,29; Matthew 6:4,6).
In spite of the historical advantage that God has given the Jew over the Gentile (verses 9-10; 1:16), they are both called by the Gospel to the same repentance.
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