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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, March 4

Matthew 14:13-21: The great significance of the multiplication of the loaves among the early Christians may be discerned from certain characteristic features: (1) outside of the events of Holy Week, it is one of the very few scenes recorded in all four gospels; (2) aspects of it are depicted numerous times in the earliest Christian iconography; (3) normally recorded in language identical to or at least reminiscent of the Last Supper, it is clearly one of the events of Jesus' life perceived to be weighted with the greatest theological significance.

This significance is clearest in John, where the story is accompanied by the lengthy and elaborate Bread of Life discourse.

This miraculous event brought to the minds of those present the common expectation that the coming Messiah would renew the events of the Exodus, including the feeding of the people with miraculous bread in the wilderness. This sense of expectation and fulfillment accounts for the considerable emphasis on Messianic themes in early Eucharistic texts of the Christian Church.

Sunday, March 5

Lent and the Spirit of Repentance: In the New Testament, the verb metanoiein--"to repent"--appears 34 times, almost always in the sense of repentance from sin and turning to God. In ten of these cases the verb is in the imperative mode, which is hardly surprising. However, a closer examination of these ten instances reveals certain aspects of repentance that are, if not surprising, at least instructive.

Before inspecting these ten instances of the imperative verb "repent" in the New Testament, however, a brief grammatical note will be helpful. The imperative mode in Greek is more complex than its counterpart in English, where the simple imperative has only one form. The Greek imperative verb can be expressed in three different tenses: (1) the aorist ("Do it!"); (2) the present ("Keep on doing it!"); and (3) the perfect ("Get it done!"). Whereas in Greek each of these imperatives is conveyed with a single word, in English we must complicate the sentence with additional words to carry over the sense of the original. Because translators do not always perform that service adequately, the precise sense of the Sacred Text is sometimes lost.

With this grammatical preamble, we are ready to examine the ten New Testament instances of the command to repent. First, we observe that the imperative verb for repentance never appears in the perfect tense. That is to say, nowhere in the New Testament are we told, "Repent and get it over with!" or "Repent and be done with it!"

This is important as suggesting that repentance is not something we bring to perfection in this world. Indeed, we may even say that a Christian's death should be his climactic act of repentance. Moreover, the injunction that this be so is indicated in the Church's traditional Great Litany, where we pray that "the remaining time of our life may be brought to an end in faith and repentance (metanoia)." Thus, the believer, when he comes to breathe his last, wants that last breath to embody a good thief's plea for mercy and forgiveness, foreswearing all righteousness of his own: "Lord, remember me when You come in Your kingdom." We must die repentant. Ideally, then, all conversion should lead to deathbed conversion.

Second, we turn to the New Testament's use of the aorist imperative of metanoiein. The force of this form indicates a specific act of decision ("Repent!"), rather than an attitude or habit. The New Testament provides seven instances of this form, three in the Acts of the Apostles and four in the Book of Revelation, and a comparison of the usage within those two books is most instructive.

In two instances in the Book of Acts, the imperative to repent is directed to unbelieving Jews (2:38; 3:19). In the third example, however, the command is issued to Simon Magus (8:22), who was already a believing and baptized Christian (8:13). In other words, even a believing and baptized Christian can still be called to repentance and conversion when his "heart is not right in the sight of God" (8:21). Even as an act of decision, then, the grace of repentance is not necessarily a once-saved-always-saved sort of thing.

This truth is especially borne out in Revelation, where in all four instances the command "Repent!" is spoken to believers themselves, specifically the Christians in the churches at Ephesus, Pergamos, Sardis, and Laodicea (2:5,16; 3:3,19). When Christians start to think and act like unbelievers, they too must be summoned to repentance, and exactly the same form of the command covers both cases.

As a matter of fact, the theme of repentance appears more frequently in Revelation's letters to the seven churches than anywhere else. Of the 34 times that the New Testament has the verb metanoiein, eight are found in Chapters 2-3 of Revelation, all of them in reference to Christian believers. This is easily the highest concentration of the verb in the New Testament.

Finally, there are three instances of the command to repent in the present tense, meaning a disciplined habit and frame of mind ("Keep on repenting!"), and it is significant that all of these are found near the beginning of a gospel narrative (Matthew 3:2;4:17; Mark 1:15). The four canonical Gospels were composed for and directed to Christian believers, who are already doing battle with their hearts within the life of the Church, the proper house of sustained and ongoing repentance.

Monday, March 6

Psalm 41 (Greek & Latin 40): The voice of this psalm is that of Christ our Lord, and its context is His saving passion. More specifically this psalm's context is Christ's betrayal by Judas Iscariot.

We know this because, on the very night of that betrayal, the Lord quoted this psalm with reference to it, saying that Judas's act of treachery happened ˝that the Scripture may be fulfilled, 'He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me'ţ (John 13:18). (The Lord said this during the Last Supper, which thus seems to determine the 'bread' in this psalm to be the Holy Communion.)

Other verses of the psalm go on to elaborate the setting of the Lord's Passion: ˝All who hate me whisper together against me; against me they devise my hurt.ţ This ˝whispering togetherţ (the literal meaning of 'conspiracy') of the Lord's enemies is likewise recorded in the Gospels: ˝Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Himţ (Mark 3:6); ˝Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to deathţ (John 11:53). This psalm, then, narrates the prayer of Jesus in the setting of that unfolding drama of deceit and betrayal.

This psalm ends, however, on the note of His Paschal triumph over death and the demons: ˝But You, O Lord, be merciful to me, and raise me up, that I may repay them. By this I know that You are well pleased with me, because my enemy does not triumph over me.ţ

Tuesday, March 7

Psalm 45 (Greek and Latin 44): ˝The kingdom of heaven,ţ we are instructed, ˝is like a king who arranged a marriage for his sonţ (Matthew 22:2), that marriage's consummation being the definitive aim of our destiny, and all of history constituting the courtship that prepares and anticipates the yet undisclosed hour of its fulfillment. Thus, the end of time is announced by the solemn proclamation: ˝Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet himţ (25:6).

This interpretation of history as the preparation for a royal wedding ceremony is so pervasive and obvious in Holy Scripture that we Christians, taking it so much for granted, may actually overlook it or give it little thought. Indeed, in this modern materialistic world there is a distinct danger that we too may forget that the present life is but the preparation for another, its many and manifold efforts only a provisioning for the greater future, its varied blessings but rehearsals for the greater joy.

This psalm anticipates and most descriptively foretells the royal wedding of the Lamb to His Bride, such as it is described in the final chapters of the Book of Revelation: ˝The royal daughter is all glorious within the palace; her clothing is woven with gold. She shall be brought to the King in robes of many colors; the virgins, her companions who follow her, shall be brought to You. With gladness and rejoicing they shall be brought; they shall enter the King's palace.ţ

Inasmuch as ˝the form of this world is passing awayţ (1 Corinthians 7:31) - a truth of which the Book of Revelation also informs us - a certain measure of detachment is necessary to prepare ourselves for the wedding feast of the King's Son, a certain using of this world as though not using it, a refusal to take seriously its unwarranted claims on our final loyalty. So our psalm once again warns us: ˝Listen, O daughter. Consider and incline you ear; forget your own people also, and your father's house. So the King will greatly desire your beauty. Because He is your Lord, worship Him.ţ

Wednesday, March 8

Matthew 15:21-28: Jesus now turns from the Jewish unbelievers to a Gentile whose faith will bring about the healing of her daughter.

It is significant that in both Mark and Matthew this story follows the discussion about ritual uncleanness, a preoccupation of the Jew.

The woman's ˝great faithţ is reminiscent of the earlier Gentiles in Matthew, such as the Magi and, more explicitly, the centurion in 8:10. This woman thus becomes a kind of first-fruits of Jesus' final Great Commission to ˝all nations.ţ Indeed, like the Magi at the beginning of this gospel and the disciples at the end of it (2:11; 28:17), this woman is said to adore Jesus(proskynein - 15:25).

The symbolism of the future universal calling is also foreshadowed in verse 30, which we read tomorrow, where the ˝great multitudesţ come to the Lord with their various needs and distresses.

Thursday, March 9

Matthew 15:29-39: Like Mark (8:1-9), Matthew includes a second account of the multiplication of the loaves.

This account is often called ˝the multiplication for the Gentiles,ţ simply because of the several elements in the story suggesting its transmission in a largely Gentile setting. For example, the Lord's reluctance to send the people away suggests that that have come ˝from afarţ (as indeed Mark 6:3 explicitly says), which was a common way in which the early Christians spoke of the calling of the Gentiles.

Thus, Jesus is here portrayed as multiplying for the Gentiles the ˝crumbsţ that the Gentile woman begged for in Matthew 15:27. In the next chapter, this miraculous bread will be contrasted with the ˝leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.ţ

Friday, March 10

Matthew 16:13-20: This text presents the definitive answer to one of the major questions of this gospel, the true identity of Jesus: ˝You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.ţ

Because this confession of faith was (and still is) regarded as the foundation stone of the Christian Church, the nickname ˝Rockţ (perhaps closer to ˝Rockyţ in English) was given to the man who made that confession, Simon Bar Jonah (or, in English, ˝Simon Johnsonţ).

It was in Simon's fishing boat that Jesus was earlier confessed to be ˝truly the Son of Godţ (14:33), so that his boat becomes in the gospels a great symbol of the Church. The great prominence of this ˝Rocky Johnsonţ(Kephas in Aramaic and Petros in Greek) among the Twelve Apostles is indicated by the fact that his name appears first in every single New Testament list of the Twelve. Those early churches most closely associated with the Apostles Peter and Paul enjoyed a singular eminence and spiritual authority among all the early Christians. Chief among those were the churches at Antioch and Rome.

 

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.

Ash 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 ˝brotherţ and ˝sisterţ 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).

Saturday, March 4

Matthew 14:13-21: The great significance of the multiplication of the loaves among the early Christians may be discerned from certain characteristic features: (1) outside of the events of Holy Week, it is one of the very few scenes recorded in all four gospels; (2) aspects of it are depicted numerous times in the earliest Christian iconography; (3) normally recorded in language identical to or at least reminiscent of the Last Supper, it is clearly one of the events of Jesus' life perceived to be weighted with the greatest theological significance.

This significance is clearest in John, where the story is accompanied by the lengthy and elaborate Bread of Life discourse.

This miraculous event brought to the minds of those present the common expectation that the coming Messiah would renew the events of the Exodus, including the feeding of the people with miraculous bread in the wilderness. This sense of expectation and fulfillment accounts for the considerable emphasis on Messianic themes in early Eucharistic texts of the Christian Church.

First Sunday in Lent, March 5

Lent and the Spirit of Repentance: In the New Testament, the verb metanoiein--"to repent"--appears 34 times, almost always in the sense of repentance from sin and turning to God. In ten of these cases the verb is in the imperative mode, which is hardly surprising. However, a closer examination of these ten instances reveals certain aspects of repentance that are, if not surprising, at least instructive.

Before inspecting these ten instances of the imperative verb "repent" in the New Testament, however, a brief grammatical note will be helpful. The imperative mode in Greek is more complex than its counterpart in English, where the simple imperative has only one form. The Greek imperative verb can be expressed in three different tenses: (1) the aorist ("Do it!"); (2) the present ("Keep on doing it!"); and (3) the perfect ("Get it done!"). Whereas in Greek each of these imperatives is conveyed with a single word, in English we must complicate the sentence with additional words to carry over the sense of the original. Because translators do not always perform that service adequately, the precise sense of the Sacred Text is sometimes lost.

With this grammatical preamble, we are ready to examine the ten New Testament instances of the command to repent. First, we observe that the imperative verb for repentance never appears in the perfect tense. That is to say, nowhere in the New Testament are we told, "Repent and get it over with!" or "Repent and be done with it!"

This is important as suggesting that repentance is not something we bring to perfection in this world. Indeed, we may even say that a Christian's death should be his climactic act of repentance. Moreover, the injunction that this be so is indicated in the Church's traditional Great Litany, where we pray that "the remaining time of our life may be brought to an end in faith and repentance (metanoia)." Thus, the believer, when he comes to breathe his last, wants that last breath to embody a good thief's plea for mercy and forgiveness, foreswearing all righteousness of his own: "Lord, remember me when You come in Your kingdom." We must die repentant. Ideally, then, all conversion should lead to deathbed conversion.

Second, we turn to the New Testament's use of the aorist imperative of metanoiein. The force of this form indicates a specific act of decision ("Repent!"), rather than an attitude or habit. The New Testament provides seven instances of this form, three in the Acts of the Apostles and four in the Book of Revelation, and a comparison of the usage within those two books is most instructive.

In two instances in the Book of Acts, the imperative to repent is directed to unbelieving Jews (2:38; 3:19). In the third example, however, the command is issued to Simon Magus (8:22), who was already a believing and baptized Christian (8:13). In other words, even a believing and baptized Christian can still be called to repentance and conversion when his "heart is not right in the sight of God" (8:21). Even as an act of decision, then, the grace of repentance is not necessarily a once-saved-always-saved sort of thing.

This truth is especially borne out in Revelation, where in all four instances the command "Repent!" is spoken to believers themselves, specifically the Christians in the churches at Ephesus, Pergamos, Sardis, and Laodicea (2:5,16; 3:3,19). When Christians start to think and act like unbelievers, they too must be summoned to repentance, and exactly the same form of the command covers both cases.

As a matter of fact, the theme of repentance appears more frequently in Revelation's letters to the seven churches than anywhere else. Of the 34 times that the New Testament has the verb metanoiein, eight are found in Chapters 2-3 of Revelation, all of them in reference to Christian believers. This is easily the highest concentration of the verb in the New Testament.

Finally, there are three instances of the command to repent in the present tense, meaning a disciplined habit and frame of mind ("Keep on repenting!"), and it is significant that all of these are found near the beginning of a gospel narrative (Matthew 3:2;4:17; Mark 1:15). The four canonical Gospels were composed for and directed to Christian believers, who are already doing battle with their hearts within the life of the Church, the proper house of sustained and ongoing repentance.

Monday, March 6

Psalm 41 (Greek & Latin 40): The voice of this psalm is that of Christ our Lord, and its context is His saving passion. More specifically this psalm's context is Christ's betrayal by Judas Iscariot.

We know this because, on the very night of that betrayal, the Lord quoted this psalm with reference to it, saying that Judas's act of treachery happened ˝that the Scripture may be fulfilled, 'He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me'ţ (John 13:18). (The Lord said this during the Last Supper, which thus seems to determine the 'bread' in this psalm to be the Holy Communion.)

Other verses of the psalm go on to elaborate the setting of the Lord's Passion: ˝All who hate me whisper together against me; against me they devise my hurt.ţ This ˝whispering togetherţ (the literal meaning of 'conspiracy') of the Lord's enemies is likewise recorded in the Gospels: ˝Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Himţ (Mark 3:6); ˝Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to deathţ (John 11:53). This psalm, then, narrates the prayer of Jesus in the setting of that unfolding drama of deceit and betrayal.

This psalm ends, however, on the note of His Paschal triumph over death and the demons: ˝But You, O Lord, be merciful to me, and raise me up, that I may repay them. By this I know that You are well pleased with me, because my enemy does not triumph over me.ţ



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