April 12 – April 17, 2024

Friday, April 12

Ezekiel 5: This chapter begins with the fourth symbolic action imposed on Ezekiel, which signifies the various fates awaiting the citizens of Jerusalem as the siege nears its end. It is clear that only a tiny remnant of them will survive. The rest of the chapter is a stirring oracle explaining why so severe a judgment is falling on Jerusalem. It will be so grievous, the Lord says, because He expected so much more of the city that He had chosen as His dwelling place on earth.

Ezekiel, as a priest charged to minister in the temple, was deeply acquainted with the sacred worship that made Jerusalem so special. This elect place of God’s presence and His proper worship have been particularly defiled by the idolatry of the populace (5:11). Whereas Jeremiah (7:1-15) had already warned the people of Jerusalem that they would not be saved by their mere possession of the temple, Ezekiel now instructs them that this possession will render their punishment all the more severe. God expects more from the one to whom He has given more, but the chosen Jerusalem has offended Him even worse than the nations that He did not choose.

Psalms 103 (Greek & Latin 102): In this psalm we detect a great effort to take into one’s own heart God’s manifold acts of mercy all through the history of the Bible. This is the God “who made His ways known to Moses, His deeds to the children of Israel.” This is the historical God of the covenant and the commandments: “The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on them that fear Him, and His righteousness unto children’s children; to such as keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commandments to do them.” It is to this interiorization of the commandments, this “remembrance” of the everlasting covenant, that this psalm summons the soul: “Forget not all His benefits; He forgives all your iniquities.”

This inner knowledge of the forgiving mercy of God is the substance of the covenant that we have with God in Christ: “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts. . . For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more” (Jer. 31:33, 34; Heb. 8:10, 12). This knowledge of the true God is inseparable from the forgiveness of our sins: “ . . . To give knowledge of salvation to His people / By the remission of their sins” (Luke 1:77).

In Psalm 103, then, the soul is called to the contemplation of God’s infinite, forgiving mercy: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. . . He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.” Indeed not, for “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

The four dimensions of the Cross, its length and breadth, its height and depth, are the dimensions of God’s mercy: “For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward them that fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” This hesed<.i> or mercy of God is not a hazy benevolence. It has a definite history that climaxes in specific acts of salvation: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). And again, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us” (1 John 3:16).

Saturday, April 13

Ezekiel 6: The prophet, standing in Babylon, faces westward, the direction of Israel, to pronounce this oracle of doom. The threefold destruction predicted here (sword, famine, and pestilence) stands parallel to the three portions of Ezekiel’s shaved hair and beard in the previous chapter, as does the prophecy of a remnant that will be delivered.

Whereas in chapter 5 Ezekiel addresses Jerusalem, in the present chapter he addresses the rural areas of Israel, the hills and valleys. The immediate listeners to this oracle, however, are those Israelites who have already been brought to captivity in Babylon. It is they who must take warning, for they will soon see God’s judgment on idolatry.

Idolatry—the worship of whatever is not the true God—is the root sin against which all the Lord’s interventions in history are directed. Since idolatry always involves human bondage, the Lord’s interventions are directed to deliverance from bondage. The Exodus itself set Israel free from the gods of Egypt.

Idolatry is the sin that is about to bring about the destruction of Judah, says Ezekiel, as well as Israel not so long before; idolatry is the reason that the masses of their population were carried into exile. Indeed, idolatry is itself a form of exile, an alienation from the true God.

Psalms 105 (Greek & Latin 104); Following the primitive schema preserved in Deuteronomy 26:1–9, the narrative of Psalm 104 breaks into three parts: the Patriarchs, the sojourn in Egypt, and the Exodus, all of them joined by the themes of God’s fidelity to His covenant promises and His active providence in fulfilling them.

While the whole psalm deals with God’s providence on behalf of all the people, the second section, dealing with the sojourn in Egypt, also includes what we may think of as “individual” providence. What the Bible portrays as God’s care for the history of the whole people of Israel is shown also to be at work in the life and destiny of a single man. It is the awesome story of Joseph and God’s care for him through many trials. Sold by his brothers into Egypt, falsely accused and unjustly imprisoned, forsaken for twenty years, the faith of Joseph was still able to say, at the end: “God sent me before you to preserve life. . . . God sent me before you. . . . But as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 45:5, 7; 50:20). Joseph’s faith in God’s providence, even as he was proved by steel and fire, is preserved also in this psalm: “[God] sent a man before them, Joseph, sold into slavery. They humbled his feet with fetters; his soul was shackled in iron. Until his word came to pass, the word of the Lord seared through him.”

Sunday, April 14

John 6.60-71: It is most significant that the two verbs introducing Peter’s confession—“to believe and to know”—are expressed in the Greek perfect tense: pepistevkamen kai egnokamen. The nuance of the expression is subtle; the perfect tense means that an action from the past moves into the present. The apostles, when they reflect on what they now confess, perceive that they already knew the identity of Jesus. Even though they have not figured it out, they discover it is already an established conviction—a prior, implicit knowledge of Jesus’ identity. Peter, faced abruptly with the question of leaving Jesus (“Will you also depart?”), immediately discerns why he and the others cannot do it: They know who he is! Abandoning him, they would forfeit eternal life.

We should go further in this reflection, I think. Why else would Jesus ask the apostles, “Will you also depart”? It is not as though Jesus needs information about this. He poses the question, rather, and thus puts the apostles on the spot, precisely in order to bring their minds to the realization of what, in fact, they have already come to believe and know. His question raises to the conscious surface of the apostles’ minds a conviction to which they already adhere. It is not proper to speak, in this case, of “doctrinal development.” The apostles are not trying to find the right words to confess a complex and knotty idea.

The apostles are making, rather, a basic creedal statement. In its full form it runs like this: “I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ.” He is one Lord, because—as all Jews know (and would lovingly die for)—“the Lord is one,” ‘Adonai ‘ehad (Deuteronomy 6:4; Ephesians 4:5). Jesus is identified in the terms of the Sh’ma’. In the Bible, monotheism is about identity.

The apostles make this step in response to an assertion implied by everything Jesus did and said: “I came forth from the Father,” exselthon para tou Patros” (16:28). They affirm this claim, not because of a religious theory that warrants it, but because, as they watch and listen to Jesus, they discern in Him the One who sent Him: “”He who sees Me sees Him who sent Me” (12:45). “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (4:49).

Ezekiel 7: If the Bible likens good to a seed that grows, develops, and matures, the same is likewise true of evil. Like the enemy that Jesus described as sowing tares among the wheat, Ezekiel says that Israel is about to behold the blossoming and fruit of many years of evil sowing.

The scene of the coming judgment portrayed in this chapter is marked by the same cataclysmic finality that characterizes Jesus’ own predictions of the fall of Jerusalem. The “land” of Israel cursed in this chapter is to be understood in a geographical, not just a political, sense. That is, the very earth is cursed, as the ground is cursed in Genesis 3. Drawn from the earth, man pollutes that source by his accumulated sins. God’s patience is immense, but, as it relates to times and seasons, it is not infinite. The end has come, says Ezekiel. When God is “fed up,” there is nothing in this earth that can prevail against His judgment.

Monday, April 15

John 2:13-25: This is the first of three times John speaks of the Passover (verse 13; cf. 6:4; 11:55). John’s triple reference to the Pascha has always prompted Christians to picture Jesus’ public ministry as lasting three years. Since we know Jesus was about thirty years old when that ministry began (Luke 3:23), it is commonly calculated our Lord lived on earth to age thirty-three.

It is John, then, who provides the traditional chronology of the activity of Jesus. The Synoptics mention only one feast of the Passover.

John specifies that this was a “feast of the Jews.” Perhaps he does this to distinguish this day from the Christian feast of the same name (cf 1 Corinthians 5:7).

This is the first time John mentions a Jewish feast day. In fact, he will make several such references, whether to the Passover (2:13,23; 6:4; 11:55; 12:1,12,20; 13:139; 18:28,3919:14), Tabernacles (7:2,810,11,1437), Hannukah (10:22), or without specification (4:45; 5:1). Some historians have argued, in fact, that John’s Gospel is structured as kind of Christian commentary on the readings in a triennial cycle used in the synagogue.

John’s account of the purging of the Temple occurs near the first of these three references to the Passover, two years earlier than in the Synoptic Gospels. Thus, John pictures the event as coming near the beginning of the Lord’s ministry, rather than one week before the end of it. This historical discrepancy is usually settled in John’s favor, since he is the only Evangelist easy to identify as an eye-witness of the events (cf. 21:24).

Ezekiel 8: This startling, detailed, and dramatic vision of Ezekiel occurred on September 17, 592 B.C. He is carried “in the Spirit” to Jerusalem to witness the abominations for which the city was to be punished with the wrath and the inevitability that we observed in the previous chapter. The material of this vision will occupy Ezekiel through Chapter 11, at the end of which he will be returned to Babylon. Prior to Jerusalem’s downfall in 586 many of the prophets fellow exiles in Babylon maintained the hope of returning home soon. The purpose of this and other visions of Ezekiel was to destroy such a hope by showing it to be groundless.

In this vision there are four scenes, each illustrating a discrete abomination in the temple. The first scene is at the north gate of the wall that separated the outer court of the temple from the outside world (8:3-6). (Ignore and omit the word “inner” from verse 3, in accord with the more accurate Greek text of the Septuagint. The received Hebrew text of this chapter is notoriously corrupt.) Ezekiel finds a pagan shrine in this place, an affront to the Lord’s presence in the temple.

In the second scene (8:7-13) Ezekiel goes through the wall of a chamber adjacent to the gate, where he finds Israel’s elders worshipping images of animals.

In the third scene (8:14f) he crosses the outer court toward the temple’s inner court. Not yet entering the latter, Ezekiel beholds Israelite women crying for the death of Tammuz, a Mesopotamian god of vegetation. Even this alien cult is found in God’s temple.

Finally, in the fourth scene (8:16-18), Ezekiel enters the inner court, where he discovers sun-worshippers. Israel’s idolatry is complete. These men have turned their backs to God and are giving adoration to a creature.

Tuesday, April 16

1 Corinthians 6.12-20: The text as a whole, however, is about sexual immorality, which seems to have been a particularly serious problem in the Corinthian congregation. The Apostle deals with this problem in larger context—namely, the holiness of the Christian body.

The Resurrection of Christ is the root and principle of bodily holiness. Paul writes: “Now the body is not for porneia but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” Our bodies participate in the holiness of the risen and Spirit-filled body of Jesus the Lord. Our bodies share already in the mystery of immortality: they are to rise again by the same power that raised up Jesus from the dead. That power—dynamis—already abides in the cells and sinews of our flesh. For this reason, the root and principle of bodily holiness is the mystery of the Lord’s Resurrection.

This is why we take bodily holiness with great seriousness. This is why we eschew the Gnostic pretense that what happens in the body is not important. Those who don’t take bodily things seriously are the people most likely to live sexually immoral lives. Such folk imagine that bodily sins are pretty much like other sins.

But what does St. Paul say? “Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits porneia sins against his own body.” Sexual sins are violations against the power of the Resurrection, which flows from the very flesh of Christ.

Ezekiel 9: The marking of the foreheads of the Remnant is a sort of renewal of the marking of the houses of the Chosen People in Egypt on Passover night.

Those thus marked will be spared on the day of wrath, for the simple reason that they “sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in Jerusalem.” Sometimes the just man is left so powerless in this world that all he can do, in the face of overwhelming evil, is “sigh and groan.”

The temple offers no sanctuary from the punishment; those in the temple are the first to fall, because they have defiled God’s house. The divine judgment begins, then, not with the world, but with the household of God.

The seven heavenly figures — the scribe and the six executioners — are angelic figures representing God’s just will in what is about to transpire in Jerusalem. Revelation 7 is a very good text to read with this chapter, which is surely in part its literary inspiration.

Wednesday, April 17

John 3.9-21: In this conversation of Jesus with Nicodemus, it is nearly impossible to determine exactly which words pertained to that original conversation and which words represent the Evangelist’s extended meditation on that conversation. That is to say, John himself appears to be meditating on the words of Jesus. At a certain point in this dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus, the dialogue becomes a monologue of the Evangelist himself. We will meet the identical phenomenon when we come to the words of Jesus’ prayer in John 17.

It is in the present text that Jesus makes His earliest explicit reference to His coming crucifixion: And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, thus must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

In the mind of John, Jesus here speaks for the Christian Church, whereas Nicodemus is the spokesman for Judaism, which has failed to understand its own Scriptures. This is the reason Jesus uses the expressions “we” and “our”: “We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness.” This is one of the many places where John tells the story in a way that reflects the situation of the early Church with respect to Judaism.

This is also the reason why the “you” of this same verse is likewise plural—“ you do not receive Our witness.” This accusation is not directed to Nicodemus personally, but to Nicodemus as a representative of unbelieving
Judaism.

Who, then, is actually speaking here? One has the impression that the words of Jesus are gradually becoming the words of the Evangelist. Indeed, Nicodemus himself starts to disappear, and the teaching becomes detached from the visit of Nicodemus. Already in verses 11-12, this is beginning to happen. By verse 13, the transition is nearly complete, and the rest of the story becomes an internal meditation of St. John.

Ezekiel 10: The wooden statues of the Cherubim, with their wings spread over the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies, were but symbols of the angels of the Presence, the heavenly Cherubim who serve to support the Throne of God.

Now Ezekiel sees these heavenly spirits themselves, and they are identical with the Four Living Creatures that he had beheld in his inaugural vision in Chapter 1, where they bore, as here, the Cloud of the divine Presence. They will appear again, of course, in Revelation 4.

The burning coals from within their whirling wheels, full of the divine holiness, are destructive of those whose brows have not been marked by the angelic scribe, who also appears again in this chapter.

Besides destroying the wicked, this divine fire purifies God’s loyal servants (cf. Isaiah 6:6f). As the chapter closes, the action moves to the east gate of the temple, facing the Mount of Olives. It is at this gate that Ezekiel will receive the two oracles in Chapter 11.

Thursday, April 18

John 3.22-36: John the Baptist was the most apophatic of men. That is to say, it was a great deal easier to determine what John was not than to declare what he was. In the Fourth Gospel, when he is first introduced, we learn that John the Baptist “was not the light, but he bore witness to the light.” When he eventually speaks for himself, he declares, “I am not the Christ.” Then, in response to further inquiry, he denies being Elijah and “the prophet.” In today’s reading he informs his disciples that he is not the Bridegroom.

In previous readings from this gospel, John modestly says of himself, “I am
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness.’” And today he identifies himself as “the Bridegroom’s friend.”

It is in his service to the light and in his friendship with the Bridegroom that John finds both his identity and the source of his joy: “The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I decrease.”

In his testimony to the light John will eventually earn the enmity of darkness. A lady named Herodias would see to that.

Ezekiel 11: The first oracle in this chapter addresses a slogan going around Jerusalem at the time, descriptive of the city’s coming destruction. The slaying of Jerusalem’s citizens, says the oracle, will ultimately be the fault of its leaders, not of the Babylonian besiegers. The latter are but instruments in the divine judgment.

The leaders back at Jerusalem planned big things for themselves, and their big plans are addressed in the second oracle. When Ezekiel and his other companions, including the cream of Jerusalem society and its most competent citizens, were taken hostage to Babylon in 597, some of those Israelites who remained in the Holy Land began to feel pretty good about their own prospects, now that the better rivals were gone. With respect to their brethren who had been carried away, they reflected: “Well, too bad for them, but that leaves more for us.”

The burden of this second oracle is to reassure those captives in Babylon that the Lord had not forgotten them and that He was determined to restore them. Indeed, it was on them that His coming blessings would fall, for their restoration is the substance of the great prophecy here about newness of heart, which becomes so important a theme in the New Testament (See especially Hebrews 8.)

As this chapter ends, the Cloud of the divine glory moves east onto the top of the Mount of Olives, and Ezekiel is restored to Babylon, where he narrates his visions and oracles to his companions in exile.

Friday, April 19

John 4.1-15: The story begins with a description of Jesus tired and thirsty. He is tried and thirsty because he is one of us, “consubstantial with us,” said the Council of Chalcedon. According to the Epistle to the Hebrews, he is a high priest familiar with human frailty, compassionate with our weakness, merciful to our failings.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus is twice described as thirsty: at the Samaritan well and on the Cross (19.28). In the later scene his tormentors give him vinegar to drink.

He finds himself in Samaria, a place where a Jew might not always expect kindness from the local citizens. History had set a barrier between the two races. This scene is freighted with a past in need of redemption.

As for the woman herself, she too had a past; she, too, needed redemption. She has more in need than Jesus was. She was not aware of this until she showed up at the well that day.

Ezekiel 12: Once again Ezekiel is charged to act out an elaborate pantomime as a message for his fellow Israelites in exile. Whereas the previous such actions, in Chapters 4-5, had to do with the destruction of Jerusalem and the sufferings of her citizens, the present instance is concerned with the experience of the coming new exile of those who still remained back home.

When his fellow exiles ask him, “What are you doing?” (12:9), Ezekiel responds with a stirring oracle by way of explanation: To those Jewish exiles already in Babylon who are imagining that they may soon be returning to the land of Judah, Ezekiel is stressing the point, “You think this is exile? You haven’t seen anything yet!”

He emphasizes in particular the suffering destined for Zedekiah, the King of Judah. Ezekiel’s walking with covered face (“that you may not see the land”) is an eerie prophecy of the day when the Babylonians would gouge out the eyes of Zedekiah, so that the execution of his sons would be the last thing he saw in this world before going into exile (2 Kings 25:4-7; Jeremiah 39:4-7; 52:7-11).

In verse 17 the prophet begins yet another pantomime, this one much simpler, and in verses 21-28 Ezekiel is charged to challenge two more cynical slogans popular at the time. These slogans, concerned with apparently unfulfilled prophecies, will lead into his condemnation of false prophets in the next chapter.