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.
Please report any problems with Daily Reflections here.
Saturday, February 25
Romans 15:14-21: Paul now proceeds to introduce himself more completely to the congregation at Rome, a city that he plans to visit in the near future for the first time. In the present verses he says a bit about himself and his ministry, evidently feeling that such information is necessary, given the strong and authoritative tone that he has adopted in this epistle (verses 15-16).
Paul commences these remarks with a polite and positive sentiment about the congregation at Rome (verse 14), an approach that he employs elsewhere in his letters (2 Corinthians 8:7; 9:2-3; Philippians 4:15). In the present case such an approach is particularly appropriate, because is conscious of writing to a church that he had no hand in founding (1:5,13). Because of this latter circumstance, Paul does not enjoy the advantage of immediate paternity and familiarity that he enjoys in the churches of Syria, Asia, Macedonia, and Greece.
He feels compelled to write to the Romans, however, because he senses a responsibility that he has toward all the Gentile Christians (verse 16 [Note the Trinitarian structure]; 1:5; 12:3; 1 Corinthians 4:6; Galatians 2:7-8).
Like Jesus preaching in Galilee (Mark 6:6), Paul has maintained a preaching "circuit" (kyklo, the Greek root of "cycle"-verse 19), first centered in Antioch and later in Ephesus. (Observe that the churches of Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, and Colossae form a sort of semi-hub around Ephesus.) We note here that the bishops of these large metropolitan areas in due course became known as archbishops and metropolitans. This was a natural development, since the outlying cities had been evangelized by missionaries from the larger ones. This historical circumstance is what accounts for the immense authority of the bishops of Ephesus, Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome in early church history.
Up to this point in his ministry, the extreme limits of Paul's evangelizing have been Jerusalem in the southeast and Illyricum, or Dalmatia (Albania, Montenegro, Kosovo), in the northwest. It has ever been Paul's goal to preach Christ where He has not been hitherto preached (verse 20; 2 Corinthians 10:15-16; 1 Corinthians 3:6).
Miracles and wonders have frequently attended Paul's preaching (Acts 12:22; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:4).
Paul describes his ministry with a liturgical and sacerdotal term, hierogounta to Evangelion tou Theou, "serving the Gospel of God as a priest," or even "priesting the Gospel of God" (cf. Isaiah 66:20). This is one of our first instances of a specifically priestly term used to describe the ordained Christian ministry.
Sunday, February 26
Romans 15:22-33: Paul now discloses his further plans.
First, he will travel with some companions to carry the collection of money that the churches of Galatia, Macedonia, and Greece have assembled for the relief of the Christian poor at Jerusalem. This collection has been in process for several years (verses 25-27; Galatians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15. We know that Paul eventually did make the delivery (Acts 24:17).
To assist in carrying this money Paul has gathered a group of sturdy Christians who will bear and defend it. These men would have to be strong and efficient. After all, this money was in coins only, not bills nor travelers' checks. The money bags were heavy, and armed brigands were everywhere, so Paul was obliged to choose the biggest, toughest, and perhaps scariest Christians he knew. The list of them is contained in Acts 20:4, where we see that they were drawn from Macedonia, Asia Minor, and Galatia. At Troas they would be joined by Paul himself, Luke, and some others whom we may be able to identify from Colossians 4:7-14.
Second, after delivering these financial resources to Jerusalem, Paul plans to sail west and visit the church at Rome, a place that he has long wanted to visit (verses 22-23,29,32; 1:10-15; Acts 19:21). In fact, Paul would arrive in Rome a bit over two years later.
Third, after visiting Rome, it is Paul's intention to expand his missionary mission to include Spain, at the far end of the Mediterranean (verses 24,28).
Did Paul ever reach Spain? In spite of the testimony of the Muratorian Fragment, it would seem that he did not. That anonymous testimony is fairly weak, given the absence of any other records of Paul's life after his two years of house arrest in Rome in 60-62 (Acts 28:30). Indeed, the few testimonies to Paul's alleged ministry in Spain come from outside of Spain. If Paul had actually established churches in Spain, as he had in Galatia, Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Greece, it is inconceivable that Spanish history would have preserved no records on the matter. A Pauline succession of Spanish bishops would certainly have been preserved and cherished in the official testimonies of the Spanish churches.
Indeed, there is no clear and compelling evidence that Paul lived past his house arrest in Rome, so it is reasonable to conjecture that he did not live past the year 62. This would also explain why there is no mention of him in Peter's First Epistle during the next year or so.
Meanwhile, still in Corinth and writing this epistle in early 58, Paul asks the Roman Christians to pray for three things: First, safety in Jerusalem, where he knows he has many enemies; Second, that the aforesaid collection will be well received by the church at Jerusalem, where he fears that some Christians were not especially enthused about the Gentile ministry anyway; Third, that he will find his way to Rome after all this is done. The account in Acts 21-28 narrates the irony with which this last prayer was fulfilled.
Monday, February 27
Romans 16:1-16: As the rising sun moves up toward the eastern horizon each morning, one by one the myriad stars of heaven start to disappear. They do not depart the sky, of course, but the stars do become invisible by reason of the sun's larger and more garish light, and we upon the earth may no longer gain our bearings by observing them.
Not so the saints who shine on high. The true Sun or Righteousness does not, at His rising, eclipse those lesser lights by which the Church on earth is guided. On the contrary, He Himself illumines the saints, who have no light apart from Him. The reign of Christ does not dethrone the saints, who have no reign apart from His.
The saints, because they are so many and their serried ranks so closely stand together, are described as a "cloud" (Hebrews 12:1). Yet, on closer inspection we perceive that not one of the saints loses those personal and particular traits by which each friend of Christ may be distinguished from the others. The Good Shepherd calls them each by name.
The individual and particular names of the saints are inscribed in the Book of Life, and the names of many of them are written likewise in the Bible. It is the singular merit of Romans 16 that it contains the New Testament's largest collection of names of individual Christians. They belong to the "church," a word that now appears in Romans for the first time (verses 1,4,5,16,23).
In the chapter here under consideration, these are all names of Christians at Rome, with the exception of Phoebe, the "deaconess" of Cenchrea (the eastern port of Corinth), who will carry this epistle to the church at Rome.
Since Paul himself had never been to Rome, how are we to explain the obvious fact that he knows so many of these Christians personally? Indeed, this problem has so vexed commentators over the centuries that they have doubted that chapter 16 belongs at the end of the Epistle to the Romans at all. They have suggested that it originally may have been attached to some other epistle, such as Ephesians.
Since there is no manuscript evidence for such an hypothesis, however, it seems better to regard chapter 16 as an integral part of Romans, seeking some other explanation for Paul's personal familiarity with so many Christians in a city that he has never visited.
I suggest the following explanation. When the Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome in A. D. 49 (Acts 18:2), that expulsion also included many Christians. Many of these came east and settled in cities that Paul evangelized. This is how they came to be the friends of Paul and even his coworkers. However, with the death of Claudius in the year 54, about three and a half years before the composition of Romans (January to March of 58), some of these Christians naturally returned to Rome, where they owned homes and other property. Paul's greetings here, then, are directed to those who had returned to Rome over the previous forty-two months. This suggestion, I believe, reasonably explains how Paul came to know twenty-eight Christians at Rome personally.
This suggestion is especially clear in the case of the first two whom Paul greets, Prisca and Aquila (verses 3-4), whom he had first met as exiles from Rome in Greece in the year 49 (Acts 18:2). It is significant that the next one named, Epenaetus, who is also from Greece (verse 5). Moreover, it is reasonable to think that Phoebe herself, who is described as a "patroness" (prostates, or Latin patrona) of Paul (verse 2), is another of these exiled Romans returning home.
The "Rufus" who lived at Rome with his mother (verse 13) was known to Paul from Jerusalem itself. They were the son and wife of Simon of Cyrene. Eight years later, writing in Rome during the persecution that followed Nero's fire (July of 65), Mark mentioned him and his brother Alexander, who had also arrived in Rome by this time (Mark 15:21).
Since the Epistle to the Romans and the other New Testament epistles were composed to be read at the Christians' weekly Eucharistic gathering, and because Christians normally greeted one another with a kiss after the prayers that followed such readings (Justin Martyr, First Apology 65.2), the closing remarks of these epistles sometimes refer to that kiss (verse 16; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Peter 5:14).
Tuesday, February 28
Romans 16:17-27: Having finished his greetings to friends at Rome, Paul next sends the salutations of those who are with him at Gaius's house in Corinth (verse 23; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:14; Acts 19:29).
Prior to sending these salutations, however, Paul warns the Romans against schism, heresy, and dissension (verses 17-18). He knows there are trouble-makers abroad. Indeed, among the Jewish Christians who were returning to Rome during those years, he may have recognized some of the very individuals who had been sowing dissent among his own congregations in the East.
The tone of Paul's warnings here differs greatly in style from the rest of the Epistle to the Romans. One would think that Paul, as thought on the friends in Rome that he had just named, had somewhat forgotten that he was writing to a church that he had not founded. He reverts to his more usual style, so that these few verses more closely resemble the other epistles. For example, one may compare verses 17-20 with Galatians 6:12-17.
Once again Paul commends the good reputation of the Roman Christians (verse 19; 1:8).
The crushing of Satan underfoot (verse 20), of course, fulfills the prophecy in Genesis 3:15.
Greetings are first sent from Timothy, who had recently arrived at Corinth and will soon be leaving to accompany the collection to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4).
In verse 22 we learn that Paul's scribe, who has written this epistle at his dictation, is named Tertius, a Latin name signifying that he is the third son in his family. Tertius sends along greetings from his younger brother, Quartus (verse 23). Their older brother, Secundus, will be one of those carrying the collection to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4).
"Erastus, the treasurer of the city" (verse 23) has become a Christian. This municipal commissioner for public works is well known from archeology. Visitors to Corinth can still see his name on a Latin inscription on a marble pavement block.
Wednesday, March 1
Matthew 6:16-24: This section of the Sermon on the Mount begins with a treatment of the third component of Matthew's ascetical triad, fasting (verses 16-16).
It should first be noted that Christians are given no discretion on whether or not to fast. It is when you fast, not if you fast, and the early Christian would have been astounded at any notion that fasting was not rquired of him. Indeed, the Christian was certain he was expected to fast no less frequently than did the devout Jew.
The Jew at that time, as we know, fasted twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. These two days, equally distant from the Sabbath, marked the first and last days of the forty-days fast of Moses on Mount Sinai. The twice-weekly fast, therefore, served to honor the Torah, on which all of Jewish piety was based.
The early Christians, on the other hand, not to be mistaken for Jews, but certainly determined to fast no less often, the changed those days to Wednesday, the day the Lord was sold for thirty pieces of silver, and Friday, the day that the Bridegroom was taken away. This discipline was common and in place well before the year 100 and possible several decades earlier. Unlike the weekly fast days of the Jews, therefore, the two Christian fast days were concentrated on the Passion and Death of Christ. Their observance was a way of honoring the mystery of the Cross.
In addition, Christians fasted at other times, such as during the period before baptisms in the congregation. Gradually, these became the standard seasons of fasting in the Christian calendar, the major one being Lent.
The absolution of the apostles from the duty of fasting (9:14-15) pertained only to the period prior to the Lord's Passion.
Dominating the early part of Matthew 6 (the triad of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting) was the warning not to work for an earthly reward. These next verses (verses 19-24) maintain that theme, exhorting us not to burden our hearts with divided loyalties.
The sustained exhortation to purity of intention with respect to almsgiving, fasting, and prayer is not to be used (as it often has been used) to justify the neglect of almsgiving, fasting, and prayer. Indeed, done for the glory of God, and with the intention of pleasing the Father who sees in secret, these three things seem to be the content of what is called "treasure in heaven" (verses 20-21). The biblical caution against "works righteousness" must not be interpreted to preclude the reward (misthos) that God's children may expect from their Father in heaven (verses 4,6,18; cf. 10:41-42).
The image of the "evil eye" in verse 23 seems to be a reference to envy (cf 20:15; Mark 7:22; 1 John 2:16). The metaphor of the eye as a lamp, found in the biblical Wisdom tradition (Proverbs 15:30; Sirach 23:19), also appears in Tobit 10:5).
Thursday, March 2
Matthew 13:53-58: Matthew now returns to the sequence of Mark 6, with the story of the Lord's mother and brothers and sisters.
As the ancient Fathers of the Christian Church were careful to remark (along with Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and all of the major Protestant Reformers), the reference to Jesus' brothers and sisters is no evidence that these persons were children of Mary.
Indeed, in the cultures of the Middle East and Africa, the words "brother" and "sister" do not normally mean what we tend to mean in the West. In those cultures, the nouns "brother" and "sister" more often refer to relatives in general, not chiildren of the same parents.
This is true in the Bible as well. Because neither Hebrew nor Aramaic (the language spoken by Jesus and the apostles) has a special word for cousin or a generic word for blood relative, the words ŮbrotherÓ and ŮsisterÓ do not normally mean what we would mean by these words in English. In fact, because individuals usually have more cousins and other relatives than they do actual brothers and sisters, these words in Hebrew and Aramaic not even normally mean what we would mean by them in English. (Those of us today who have friends from the Middle East and North Africa know that this characteristic of their native Arabic has also permeated their speaking of English.)
Consequently, it should not be a matter of wonder that the Lord, as He was about to die, entrusted the care of His mother to someone outside of His immediate family (John 19:27), for there is no evidence that He had any other immediate family.
Friday, March 3
Matthew 14:1-12: Like the other Evangelists, Matthew clearly expects his readers to be already familiar with the identity of this Herod. Modern readers, however, need to be informed that he was Herod Antipas, whom the Romans had made tetrarch (ruler over a quarter of a Roman province, the province here being Syria) over Galilee and Perea after the death of his father, Herod the Great (cf. Matthew 2).
Whereas Mark uses the story of Herod's execution of the John the Baptist as a sort of interlude between the sending out and return of the Twelve (Mark 6:6-31), Matthew has already employed that setting back in Chapter 10. Consequently, his account of the execution of John the Baptist fits into a slightly different sequence.
Otherwise, his version of the event is simply a shortened form of Mark's. In this story of Herod, attention should be drawn to the king's similarity to the ancient King Saul, who was likewise tormented by the unforeseen but lamentable consequences of an unwise oath (cf. 1 Samuel 14:24-30,43-46).
Copyright © 2004 by the Fellowship of St. James. All rights reserved.
Home - FSJ - Mere Comments - Store - Speakers & Conferences - Archives - Contact Us