August 20-August 27

Friday August 20

Acts 28:11-16: When the time comes to depart, they once again sail an Alexandrian grain ship, which has wintered at Malta. Luke includes the detail that its prow is adorned with carved statues of Castor and Pollux, astral gods revered by the sailors who call upon them in times of storm. They sail to Syracuse, on the east coast of Sicily, where they remain three days while the crew unloads old cargo and takes on new. They then cross over to a port on the Calabrian coast, Rhegium (modern Reggio), on the very toe of the Italian boot. Taking advantage of a southerly wind, they then sail up to Puteoli (modern Pozzuoli) on the Bay of Naples, where they find a congregation of Christians.

Some of these Christians immediately rush north to Rome, 125 miles away, to inform the Christians in the capital that Paul is on the way. The apostle and his company, meanwhile, spend a whole week at Puteoli before continuing their journey overland. Eighty miles later they come to Appian Forum, and, ten miles further, to Three Taverns; in both places they are met by Christians who had been forewarned of Paul’s coming by the Christians from Puteoli. They are all glad to see him, of course. They may be thinking of the epistle that he wrote them three years earlier from Corinth.

Second Kings 23: The royal sponsorship of the Deuteronomic Reform came to an end in the year 609. It happened in this way:

As the Prophet Nahum had foretold, the Assyrian capital of Nineveh fell to the Babylonians in 612, but a good part of the defeated army survived. Moving north to Haran, at the top of the Fertile Crescent, this remnant continued to hold out for three years, waiting desperately for help expected from Egypt.

In 609 Egypt’s new Pharaoh, Neco II, to whom it was obvious that his country’s advantage lay in stopping the rise of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, determined to go to the aid of those Assyrians. With some Greek mercenaries, Neco moved up into Palestine, planning to join the Assyrians at Carchemish on the Euphrates.

King Josiah of Judah, however, had ideas of his own. Knowing firsthand the evils of Assyria, he determined to throw in his lot with the Babylonians, so he led the army of Judah to meet Neco’s forces at the Megiddo pass. In the ensuing battle, the great Josiah was killed at age thirty-nine.

For Judah his passing was an unmitigated tragedy. The strong, devout Josiah was followed on the throne by a series of quislings, who governed an ever-diminishing nation until Jerusalem’s destruction in 587 B.C.

Saturday, August 21

Acts 28:17-31: Because the events at Caesarea the previous autumn, culminating in Paul’s appeal to a higher court at Rome, had transpired so late in the year—precariously close to the winter, when sea travel and communication were no longer undertaken—no one in Rome had learned of those distant events. The Jews in Rome gained their first information on the matter three days after Paul’s arrival in the city (28:21).

He invited local Jewish leaders to meet at his lodging, where he was under house arrest (28:16–17). It is significant to Luke’s literary and theological purpose to record Paul’s last rejection by the Jews—the last of so many that he has recounted—in that very city which was the capital of the Gentile world, the city towards which the dynamism of this narrative has been directed. Paul was at last in the capital of the Roman Empire, the city so closely tied to his and Peter’s destinies. It is precisely in Rome that Paul declares to the unbelieving Jews that “this salvation has been sent to the Gentiles” (28:28).

Here the story ends, not because Luke has run out of things to tell, but because he has now reached the geographical and thematic goal toward which his entire account has been moving. The movement from Jerusalem to Rome served for Luke as a symbol of the internationalizing of the gospel, bringing God’s message of salvation to the political center of universal human concern.

I have concentrated on the ministry of St. Paul, because that is where Luke, with respect to Rome, directs his own concentration. A distinct Rome-ward impulse, nonetheless, is easily discerned in Luke from the beginning. Thus, when he commences his narrative of the ministry of John the Baptist, which Luke takes as the terminus a quo for the authoritative period of apostolic witness (cf. Acts 1:22), he is careful to fix the date of John’s ministry, first of all, in reference to the Roman imperial government: “Now, in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea . . .” (Luke 3:1).

Sunday, August 22

Mark 14:53-65: According to the Gospel of John (18:13), the arrested Jesus is first brought before Annas, the former high priest and father-in-law to the current high priest, Caiaphas. This Annas was a powerful figure, and the early Christians regarded him as one of their most dangerous enemies (Acts 4:5). John (19:19-23) narrates an interrogation of Jesus before Annas, and then he says, “Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest” (19:24). This Evangelist provides not a single detail of Jesus’ interrogation by Caiaphas but says that Jesus was taken directly to Pontius Pilate in the morning (19:28). In short, John records two interrogations of Jesus by the Jewish leaders, the second ending in the morning.

Luke simplifies the narrative considerably, saying the arrested Jesus was taken directly to the high priest’s presence (22:54); he tells us nothing about an interrogation until the morning (22:66). The details of that inquiry (22:67-71) closely resemble the interrogation that Mark and Matthew portray as taking place during the night.

There is no reason to doubt the accuracy of these variant evangelical accounts, if we bear in mind that it has always been customary to question a prisoner repeatedly, going over the same accusations many times, often with a view to wearing the prisoner down and tripping him up in his testimony. Clearly this was the procedure followed in Jesus’ case, each of the four Evangelists preserving some portion of the proceedings.

Mark and Matthew, but more especially John, tell the story of the Lord’s trial by weaving it back and forth with the scene in the outer courtyard, where Peter is also under a kind of interrogation. Jesus and Peter are both on trial, as it were, and the reader appreciates the contrast between them. In both cases there are testimonies, and in each case there is an adjuration of some kind. In both cases there is also perjury (Matthew 26:63,74).

Even before the charges against Jesus are stated—as Mark tells the story—the Sanhedrin is seeking the death penalty (verse 55). Indeed, Jesus’ enemies have made this determination some time ago (3:6). The charge they want to sustain, if they can find witnesses for it, is blasphemy, one of their earliest accusations against Jesus (2:7). Jesus knows exactly what they are up to, and they know that he knows it.

It is not so easy, however, to find even false witnesses to support the charge of blasphemy. Jesus, it is said, has made some remark or other about the destruction of the Temple, but there is inadequate agreement between the two witnesses brought forward to make this point (verse 59). Only John (2:19-21) records the actual words of Jesus that formed the basis for this accusation.

We recall that blasphemy against the temple will later be the charge brought against Stephen (Acts 6:13-14).

By not answering these interrogations, Jesus fulfills the prophecies about the Suffering Servant in Isaiah (52:14-15).

Frustrated by Jesus’ silence, the high priest adjures Him directly to declare whether He is God’s Son and Messiah. The high priest is surely prompted by the parable of the vine growers (12:1-12) to ask this question.

Jesus apparently answers positively to this question, affirming that He is the Messiah and the Son of God, but He goes on to identify Hims
elf further by reference to another figure in prophetic literature, Daniel’s Son of Man (Daniel 7:13-14). This claim, from Jesus’ own lips, is taken as evidence adequate to sustain the charge of blasphemy, a crime for which capital punishment is prescribed (Leviticus 24:16). This is the sentence Jesus will be given later, toward the morning.

The bystanders and others now repeat the beatings and ridicule, which began as soon as Jesus was arrested (Luke 22:63-65).

Monday, August 23

First Thessalonians 2:1-12: Paul continues to speak of his own conscience in the Holy Spirit–"… we speak, not as pleasing men, but God, who tests our hearts. . . . God is witness" (verses 4-5). Paul's behavior was, in fact, being challenged by his opponents. He was being likened to other itinerant preachers who made their living by spreading new and interesting ideas.

Such itinerant preachers were much common in the ancient world. One such group was the Cynics, criticized by Dio Chrysostom (AD 40-112, and therefore somewhat contemporary with Paul) for their "error, impurity, and deception." All of these charges were directed at Paul himself (verses 3-6). Dio Chrysostom goes on to say that a true philosopher should be "gentle as a nurse." This is exactly how Paul describes himself (verse 7). In addition, Paul appeals to the memory of the Thessalonians themselves with respect to his recent ministry in their city (verses 1,2,5,9,10).

The Thessalonians could be witnesses for Paul only up to a point, however. The real Paul they could not see. Inside Paul was the plerophoria effected by the Holy Spirit. This was his "complete assurance," known only to God, so it is to God Himself that Paul appealed as the Judge of his conscience, no matter what others might think of him.

The idea of living under God's scrutiny was important to Paul's psychology. He was persuaded that a man was not defiled by what entered him from without, but only by what came from inside, from the heart (cf. Mark 7:14-23). The Apostle rather frequently appeals to God's inner witnessing (2 Corinthians 1:23; Romans 1:9). His mentality seems dominated by the awareness of God's inner judgment over him.

Job 1: Satan’s argument against Job is simple and plausible: If a just man is so richly blest in his uprightness, who is to say that this just man is really so loyal to God? May it not be the case that the just man is simply taking good care of his own interests? Let the alleged just man, then, be put to the test.
Indeed, ever since the first man who lived in prosperity—Adam in the Garden—this demonic Adversary has been endeavoring to put man to the test. The greatest trial of Job will come in the consideration of his own mortality, which is the sad inheritance he has received from Adam. We must not lose sight of Job’s antithesis to Adam. Job’s faithful service to God in this book stands in sharp relief against the disobedience of Adam, which brought death into the world.

Tuesday, August 24

First Thessalonians 2:13-20: Paul did not preach his own word (verse 13). He contended, in fact, that the Apostles themselves were relatively unimportant (1 Corinthians 3:5-9), and he insisted that the Gospel was not his to change (Galatians 1:6-9).

The Gospel means "good news," but not "news" in the same way that the newspaper gives news. It does not simply give a "news flash" about God. On the contrary, the Gospel does something in those that receive it in faith (verse 13; Romans 1:16; Ephesians 6:17; 1 Peter 1:23-25; Hebrews 4:13; John 17:17).

In describing the Gospel as "God's Word," Paul and the other New Testament writers were adapting the expression "the Word of the Lord" from Israel's prophets. Of the 241 times that this expression appears in the Hebrew Bible, it refers to prophetic oracles 221 times.

Like the prophetic oracles that were called "the Word of the Lord," the Gospel was not preached in order to convey an idea but to get results (1 Kings 17:1; Deuteronomy 8:3; Isaiah 55:10-11)—to affect history (Jeremiah 5:14; 23:29; Ezekiel 11:13). God's Word proclaimed in the new dispensation of grace should not be weaker than God's word spoken in the Old Testament. Hence, Paul thought it important to distinguish man's word from God's.

Job 2: Satan, disappointed at Job’s unexpected response to the initial trials, wants to afflict Job in his very flesh, persuaded that this new kind of pain will bring out the worst in him. He predicts that Job, in such a case, will finally curse God (2:5).

In the previous chapter, Satan had asked if Job was a just man “for nothing” (higgam), meaning “without getting anything out of it.” Now God throws this expression back in Satan’s face in 2:3—“you moved me to destroy him ‘for nothing’ [higgam]” (NKJV, “without cause”). That is to say, it was not Job that failed the test, but Satan. The reader discerns that God is actually taunting Satan here. As in Psalm 2, the Lord is laughing His enemy to scorn.

Satan, however, now takes his cynicism to a new level. Believing that man is at root selfish, Satan wants Job put to the test in his own flesh, his own person, not simply in his family and possessions. Job’s success so far, Satan believes, amounts to nothing more than the experience of survival. So, he contends, let Job’s survival be put at risk. Strip him down to his naked existence, deprived of health and reputation, and then see what happens. At that more personal level, the demonic cynic argues, Job will not fear God; he will curse God, rather.

God agrees to this new trial, thus introducing a new scene (2:7–10), which describes Job’s sufferings. These sufferings involve loathsome and unsightly infections that are often mentioned by Job in the later discourses. Treated like a leper, Job goes to sit on the city dump. He becomes a foreshadowing of the Suffering Servant prophesied in the Book of Isaiah: “In His humiliation His justice was taken away, / And who will declare His generation?” (Acts 8:33, quoting Isaiah 53:8 LXX).

Job is dying, and his wife tempts him to curse God before he does so. In short, Job’s wife reacts very much as Satan predicted that Job himself would react.

Indeed, we do perceive a change in Job at this point. If he does not curse God, Job also does not explicitly bless God as he had done in his first affliction (1:21). Instead, he humbly submits to God’s will (2:10).
In each case, nonetheless, God’s confidence in Job is vindicated. Satan has done his worst to Job, but Job has not succumbed. Like Abraham in Genesis 22, Job has met the trial successfully.

Having done his worst, Satan disappears and is never again mentioned in the book. The rest of the story concerns only God and human beings.

Wednesday, August 25

1 Thessalonians 3:1-13: The two verbs "strengthen" and "encourage" (sterixsai, parakalesai) (verse 2) are used fairly often in the New Testament to describe what Christians are supposed to do for one another. Indeed, in the pastoral work of the early Christians, these are practically technical expressions for matters of duty. In addition to being used separately, they sometimes appear together in the writings of the two great missionaries who traveled together, Paul and Luke (Romans 1:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:17; Acts 14:22; 15:32).

Probably we should not try to find a distinction between the two verbs, as they are employed in such contexts. Their union is more likely a hendiadys, a way of saying something twice (as in "will and testament," “hue and cry,” “kit and boodle”). Strength and encouragement are the same thing, and it is very necessary to Christians (Luke 22:32; Revelation 3:2).

In the present text Paul relates this "strengthening" to faith (as also in Romans 1:11), because he is aware that our faith is always weak. To gain some idea how little faith we have, it is useful to recall that faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain. In any case, it is imperative to strengthen the faith of others by our own faith. John Calvin remarked on this verse: "The fellowship that ought to exist among the saints and the members of Christ surely extends to this point, that the faith of the one proves the consolation of the other."

According to Paul's thought here, the Christian who encourages and strengthens other Christians is God's "fellow laborer," because he is doing God's work This also implies, of course, that the Christian who discourages. or weakens the faith of other Christians is really working against God.

We may list any number of ways by which we Christians encourage and strengthen one another: kindness, magnanimity, generosity, genuine and sympathetic interest in the lives of others, good example, a willingness to listen to others when they tell us their troubles. Likewise, there are all sorts of ways to discourage and weaken the faith of others: bad example, excessive criticism and pickiness, unwarranted challenging of the good will and intention of others, being mean minded and selfish.

Job 3: In this third chapter, the Book of Job switches from prose to poetry, the style that will be maintained until almost the end of the book.

Job now breaks the week of silence, beginning his lament, a lament that reminds us more of Jeremiah and some of the Psalms, perhaps, than of Israel’s wisdom literature. Chapter 3 is, in fact, a prayer that is paralleled in several of the psalms (such as 49, 73, and 139 [LXX 48, 72, 138]). This chapter is simply a lamentation, much like the biblical book that bears that same name.

Like Elijah pursued by Jezebel, Job is weary of life. Indeed, a more detailed comparison between Elijah and Job is amply warranted by the resemblances between this third chapter and 1 Kings 10. The faith of both men is tried in adversity and discouragement.

Job is also to be compared here to the suffering, afflicted Jeremiah. The present chapter resembles the dereliction recorded in such texts as Jeremiah 15 and 20. Like Jeremiah (20:14–18), Job curses (yeqahlel) the day he was born (cf. also 1 Kings 19:4; Jonah 4:3, 8; Sirach 23:14). Job does not, however, curse God.

Still, Job has become impatient; he is beginning to experience even God as an enemy. Job’s “let there be darkness” (3:4–6) stands in opposition to God’s “let there be light” in Creation (Genesis 1:3). In verses 11–12 Job begins asking the great question “Why?” that will fill so much of the book.

Thursday, August 26

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12: Paul prays that the Thessalonians will abound more and more (verses 1-2). This idea of growth is frequent in Paul, for whom the Christian condition of justification is less a determined "state" than the dynamic possibility of growth in the Holy Spirit. The word "more" (mallon) appears seven times in Romans, eight times in 1 Corinthians, twice in 2 Corinthians, five times in Philippians, once each in Galatians, Ephesians, 1 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and twice in the tiny letter to Philemon.

This frequency of a simple adverb suggests something of how Paul experienced the life in Christ. It had no limits, neither in knowledge nor in love. He does not, therefore, attempt to "define" a disciple of Christ, because to "define" means to "determine the limits of." Belonging to Christ is limitless, because Christ Himself is limitless.

For this reason St. John Chrysostom comments on this verse, comparing the soul to fertile soil: "For as the earth ought to bear not only what is so upon it, so too the soul ought not to stop at those things that have been inculcated, but to go beyond them."

The image of the seed sown on the earth is a famous one, of course. The Lord's parable of the sower is only one of its uses.

The early Christian parishes had a strong sense of identity based on a negative attitude towards the society in which they lived. They realized that what Jesus meant was radically opposed to what the world stood for, and the call to holiness, an essential feature of the life in Christ, required from them a radical break with their pagan past. Often enough this also meant, in practice, a break with their pagan friends (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Thus, the local Christian congregations served as communities of support, because believers could find with one another a very real solidarity in those convictions that separated them from other people. We find in early Christian literature ample evidence these Christians felt a great gulf between "them" and "us." The New Testament and other primitive Christian literature leave no doubt that the specifics of Christian existence were founded on a position of contrast with, and opposition to, the "world."

Indeed, today's reading uses a technical expression to designate non-Christians, hoi exso, "those outside" (verse 12). This was evidently a common term among the early believers (1 Corinthians 5:12-13; Colossians 4:5; Mark 4:11; cf. also Titus 2:7-8; 1 Timothy 3:7).

Christians at that period were enormously aware of their minority status among non-Christians, and they were careful about how they impressed those non-Christians (1 Peter 2:12; 1 Corinthians 10:32-33; Matthew 5:16).

The picture that emerges of the Christian parishes during that early period is one of communities of sobriety, hard work, and a closely-knit bond of fraternal love (philadelphia).

Friday, August 27

Job 5: Job is addressed eight times by his three comforters, an arrangement that permits the first of those speakers, Eliphaz the Temanite, to address him three times. It is probably because he is the eldest of the three men (cf. Job 15:10) that Eliphaz speaks first, and this is surely also the reason why, near the end of the book, God addresses Eliphaz directly as the spokesman of the group (42:7).

A native of Teman, Eliphaz exemplifies the ancient wisdom of Edom
(cf. Genesis 36:11), concerning which Jeremiah inquired, “Is wisdom no more in Teman? Has counsel perished from the prudent? Has their wisdom vanished?” (Jeremiah 49:7). Eliphaz represents, then, the “wisdom of the south,” the great desert region of the Negev and even Arabia, where only the wise can survive.

In his initial response to Job (chapters 4—5), Eliphaz appeals to his own personal religious experience. Eliphaz, unlike the other two comforters, is a visionary. He has seen (4:8; 5:3) and heard (4:16) the presence of the divine claims in an experience of such subtlety that he calls it a “whisper” (shemets—4:12). This deep sense of the divine absolute, born of Eliphaz’s religious experience, forced upon his mind a strongly binding conviction of the divine purity and justice. This profound certainty in his soul became the lens through which Eliphaz interprets the sundry enigmas of life, notably the problem of human suffering.

If we compare Eliphaz to Job’s other two comforters, moreover, we observe a gradated but distinct decline in the matter of wisdom. Eliphaz begins the discussion by invoking his own direct spiritual experience, his veda. The second comforter, however, Bildad the Shuhite, can appeal to no personal experience of his own, but only to the experience of his elders, so what was a true insight in the case of Eliphaz declines to only an inherited theory in the case of Bildad. Living mystical insight becomes merely an inherited moral belief.

The decline progresses further in the case of Job’s third comforter, because Zophar the Naamathite, unlike Bildad, is unable to invoke even the tradition of his elders. He is familiar with neither the living experience of Eliphaz nor the inherited learning of Bildad; his is simply the voice of established prejudice.

In these three men, then, we watch insight decline into theory, and then theory hardens into a settled, unexamined opinion. As they individually address Job, moreover, each man seems progressively less assured of his position. And being less assured of his position, each man waxes increasingly more strident against Job.

Consequently, along with the decline of moral authority among these three men, there is a corresponding decline in politeness, as though each man is obliged to raise the volume of his voice in inverse proportion to his sense of assurance. Thus, we find that Eliphaz, at least when he begins, is also the most compassionate and polite of the three comforters.

In the present chapter, Eliphaz is shocked by Job’s tone. Instead of asking God to renew His mercies, Job has been cursing his own life. And since God the Creator is the source of that life, Job’s lament hardly reflects well on God. This perverse attitude of Job, Eliphaz reasons, must be the source of the problem. Job’s affliction, consequently, is not an inexplicable mystery, as Job has argued, but the result of Job’s own attitude toward God. Job’s lament, Eliphaz believes, is essentially selfish, expressing only Job’s subjective pain. Therefore, Eliphaz becomes more severe in his criticism of Job, referring to him as “foolish” (5:2,3).