November 16 – November 23, 2018

Friday, November 16

Luke 14:25-35: This section of Luke, containing a series of dominical sayings relative to the cost of Christian discipleship, includes two parables not found outside of Luke (verses 28-33). Both parables, the tower-builder and the warring king, have to do with “counting the cost.” Good beginnings are all very well, of course, but the real test of the Christian life lies further down the road. Fervent and devout feelings, especially during the early stages of the life in Christ, must not be confused with a person’s true spiritual state. Feeling holy is not the same thing as being holy, and time will test all things. These two parables, then, convey much the same message as the parable of the ten maidens waiting for the bridegroom in Matthew 25; namely, the need to prepare for the “full distance” of the appointed task. The parable of the salt in verses 34-35 has parallels in Mark 9:49-50 and Matthew 5:13, but a comparison among these three texts shows in Luke’s version a greater emphasis on the hearing of the Word (verse 35). Unlike Matthew’s version, this text does not identify the salt as the Christians themselves, and unlike Mark, there is nothing about the salt as burned in sacrifice. In Luke’s version the accent falls on salt as a preservative over a period of time; its sense, then, is related to the two parables that immediately precede it. All three parables are related to the Cross (verses 25-27), which is the dominant symbol of the cost of discipleship. The idiomatic meaning of “hate” in verse 26 is “to love less,” as in Genesis 29:31-33 and Malachi 1:2-3.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-12: In this reading Paul uses the striking expression “the love of the truth,” prompting a later remark of St. Gregory the Great, to the effect that veritas non cognoscitur nisi amatur–“the truth is not known unless it is loved.”

It is worth reviewing the persuasion of the ancients on this point, those who believed that the goal of education was love of the truth. Our modern attitude, by contrast, seems to be that of a true-or-false test, in which the question of a statement’s content pertains solely to the intellect.

This attitude is difficult to reconcile with Holy Scripture, where the opposite of truth is not falsehood but deception. Eve in the Garden was not taking a true-or-false test, which she happened to fail. Eve was deceived by a lie. Jesus later calls Satan a liar from the beginning. In the Bible, the opposite of truth is deception.

Knowledge of the truth always involves an act of judgment, and the act of judgment always depends on the orientation of the heart. Hence St. Gregory’s assertion that the truth is not known unless it is loved. The business of knowing the truth has to do with the quality of the heart, which is why Paul contrasts truth with wickedness (verses 10-12). A few years later he would tell the Corinthians, “Charity does not rejoice in evil, but in the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6). Similarly he would tell the Romans about those who “disobey the truth and obey wickedness” (Romans 2:8).

Saturday, November 17

Luke 5:1-10: Whereas the parable of the lost sheep is found also in Matthew 18:12-14, only Luke gives us the parable of the lost coin. The pairing of these two parable—one involving a man and the other a woman—is typical of Luke’s particular concern include to speak of both men and women. When the Holy Spirit is pours out, Luke takes pains to tell us, God declares, “I will pour out My Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy” (Acts 2:17). At the very beginning of Luke’s message, the Angel Gabriel speaks to both Zachary and Mary. When the infant Jesus arrives at the Temple, his is greeted by both Simeon and Anna. And so on.

2 Thessalonians 2:13—3:5: The vocabulary of call and election came naturally to Paul as a Jew, because God’s choice of the Israelites as a special and consecrated people had long been formative elements in the self-consciousness of that people. Abraham had been “called” from Ur of the Chaldees; Israel had been “called” out of Egypt.

What may at first seem surprising is that in these two earliest of Paul’s epistles, those to the Thessalonians (as in verse 13 of today’s reading), both of them written to predominantly Gentile Christians, he expects them to understand what he means by this vocabulary of call and election. Apparently during the three weeks of his oral instruction to them, to which he refers in these two letters, Paul had stressed election and call as central elements in the self-consciousness of the Christian Church. He had established in the minds of these Thessalonians that they too stood in a direct line of continuity with God’s Chosen People of old, with Abraham and with Moses. The Thessalonians too were called and elect.

After all, they had received “the word of God” (verse 13), a biblical expression that normally refers to a prophetic oracle. Paul sees himself as commissioned to speak this word, like the prophets before him. Thus, when Paul spoke, it was God speaking, just as He had spoken through Moses or Isaiah.

Paul feels the need to remind the Thessalonians of this. There is nothing here to suggest that the sense of being called and chosen involved an overwhelming experience not open to doubt. Otherwise it would not have been necessary for Paul to keep reminding the Thessalonians of the truth of their call and election.

It is important, furthermore, to observe that nowhere does Holy Scripture speak of call and election in a negative way, as though God deliberately chose not to call some human beings to salvation—as though some human beings were somehow outside of God’s love and care. Call and election are always spoken of in positive terms in Holy Scripture, never negative terms.

Sunday, December 18

Luke 15:11-32: There are three people in this parable, the father and his two sons. We may reflect on each of them.:

First, there is the younger brother, often known as “the prodigal son,” after whom the parable is commonly named. When I think of this younger son, I am invariably reminded of Jacob’s older son, Esau, inasmuch as both men were so heedless of their inheritance. Both of these young men, who enjoyed the fortune of having good fathers, proved themselves to be utter fools. Both of them, I say, were careless about their inheritance. Esau sold his inheritance for a bowl of soup, and today’s younger son spent his in riotous living in a far country.

In due course both young fools came to regret their mistakes. It is in respect to those regrets, however, that our comparison between Esau and today’s younger son must be modified into a significant contrast: Whereas Esau simply regretted his loss, this younger son actually e other repented of his sin. The difference between these two men illustrates the difference between regret and repentance, because they are certainly not the same thing.

Second, there is the older brother in today’s parable, the man who feels himself entirely righteous and passes judgment on his younger brother. This older brother puts one in mind of the prophet Jonah. Indeed, the stories of these two men—Jonah and the older brother in the parable—correspond very closely to one another. To begin, they have the same theme: both the Book of Jonah and this parable are stories of the divine mercy bestowed on unworthy sinners. Today’s younger brother repents of his sins, as did the men of Nineveh. Both, in turn, are forgiven of their sins and reconciled to God.

But how do Jonah and the older brother react to this repentance and divine mercy toward the sinner. Both and resentful, and both become angry. They are angry at the divine mercy! At the end of each story, therefore, we find a further call to repentance. In the last line of the Book of Jonah, God questions Jonah, “Should I not pity Nineveh?” And that is how the Book of Jonah ends—with that question, which summons Jonah himself to repentance. Likewise, in today’s parable the father of the two sons calls his older son to come in and enjoy the banquet celebrating the return of his wayward brother: “”It was right that we should make merry and be glad.”

Both the Book of Jonah, therefore, and the parable of the Prodigal Son end with question put to each of us, a question which is a call to repentance. Both stories tell us to stop judging others, to rejoice in the divine mercy, and to foreswear an angry, self-righteous attitude toward our fellow sinners.

Third, there is the father in today’s parable, the figure who represents God Himself. This father is portrayed as merciful and loving. The Gospel tells us that when the younger son “was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.” This Father longs for the return of His child. In each of us He recognizes the image of Himself. It is of Him that Jesus says, “The Father Himself loves you.”

Monday, November 19

Revelation 1:1-8: In the early Church prophetic utterance played a major role in the determination of practical matters, such as the proper direction to be taken by missionaries (Acts 16:6-7) and the choice of men to be ordained (1 Timothy 4:14). Indeed, the prophets in the New Testament are mentioned with the apostles (1 Corinthians 12:27-29; 14:1-5; Ephesians 2:20), and we even know the names of some of them (Acts 11:27-30; 15:32). The present book contains seven references to these prophets (10:7; 11:8; 16:6; 18:2024; 22:6,9).

Psalms 89 (Greek & Latin 88): The mystery of Christ was already present, then, when the voice of God called out into the aboriginal darkness of non-being, “Let there be light.” Christ is no afterthought in the divine plan; God has no relations with this world except in Christ. Even when the Father’s voice imposed form over the chaos of nonexistence, it was the form contained in His Word, who is His Son. God’s covenant with creation was the initial exercise in applied Christology.

The first part of our psalm, taking up the theme of this divine imposition of form over chaos, emphasizes the structural constancy of the universe, but already this cosmic theme is introduced in a setting best described as messianic. That is to say, already anticipating the psalm’s second part, the permanence of the Davidic throne is related to the unvarying dependability of the heavenly bodies, for both things are given shape by God’s holy word and sworn resolve.

As Christians, we know that God’s solemn promise to David, with respect to the everlasting stability of his throne, is fulfilled in the kingship of Christ, for the Son of David now sits forever enthroned at God’s right hand, executing both prophecy and promise. Only in Christ do we find the key to the mystery of this psalm: “Once I swore by My holiness, nor would I ever lie to David. His seed shall abide forever, and his throne as the sun in My sight, and like the moon forever established, a faithful witness in heaven.”

The theological bond, then, joining the creation to David, is Christ: “God . . . has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds. . . . But to the Son He says: ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.’ . . . And: ‘You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, / And the heavens are the work of Your hands’” (Heb. 1:1, 2, 8, 10). The regal, messianic covenant of sonship is related to the fixed structure of the very world, because both realities are rooted in Christ. As font and inner form, He is their common warrant.
In fact, nonetheless, both things, God’s creation and His covenant, appear ever under threat throughout history, which theme brings us to the third part of our psalm. In this section we pray repeatedly for God’s vindication of the messianic covenant, which man in his rebellion endeavors ever to overthrow. Indeed, in our own times this struggle seems to have intensified and entered a new phase. After deism, rejecting God’s messianic covenant with us in Christ, strove to content us solely with the rational structure of creation, it was only a short time before creation itself came under siege. Now we live in a world where even the clearest manifestations of intelligent order are routinely dismissed as chaos, so grievously has the human spirit lost its use of reason.

Tuesday, November 20

Luke 16:19-31: Luke 16:19-31: This rich man has lost his perspective. He was distracted from his focus. He “was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.” He forgot what was important, and what was not important. He was the sort of man of whom our Lord says that “the deceitfulness of riches chokes the word, and he becomes unfruitful.”

He has been deceived, but the deception was entirely of his own making. Perhaps he had let himself watch too many TV commercials. He had let himself become persuaded that the goods and wealth of this world are of lasting value. Someone had persuaded him that baldness was the worst thing that could befall him. He resembled the frantic co-ed, for whom the worst catastrophe would be a failure to get a date for the prom.

Loss of perspective leads by degrees to unbelief and hardness of hear. In this parable Jesus names one of the characters. I believe this is the only time Jesus ever does this. He gives the poor man the name of his friend Lazarus, whom He did, in fact, raise from thee dead. This is significant.

In the parable, the rich man asks Abraham, “I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.” To this, Abraham answers, “‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”

This is exactly what happened when Lazarus was, in fact, raised from the dead. St. John tells us:

Now a great many of the Jews knew that [Jesus] was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.

It was in order to sharpen our perspective on this point that Jesus posed the question, “what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” This is a simple “business question.” Our Lord poses it in terms of profit, gain, and loss. He tells us to look to the bottom line of the ledger, and ask ourselves, “what’s it going to be? Profit or loss?”

Wednesday, November 21

Revelation 2:1-7: Among the early Christian churches, Ephesus was particularly renowned for the strictness of its doctrinal purity. This was a book-burning
congregation (Acts 19.19), which brooked no heresy. The apostle Paul, who had labored at Ephesus for three years, stressed the importance of doctrinal orthodoxy to all who ministered and taught there (Acts 20.29–31; 1 Tim 1.3–7,18–20; 4.1–3; 5.17; 6.3–5,20; 2 Tim 1.13–15; 2.14–18; 3.13; 4.2–5). In contrast to all of Paul’s other epistles, he mentioned no heresies in his Epistle to the Ephesians.

Well into the second century, we know the reputation of the church at Ephesus for its doctrinal purity (cf. Ignatius of Antioch, Ephesians 6.2; 9.1; Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 1.26.3).

Here in Revelation 2 the church at Ephesus is commended for dealing with certain heretics called the Nicolaitans (verse 6), who apparently taught sexual immorality (2.14–15). The church was also obliged to deal with false apostles (verse 2), concerning whom the apostle Paul had earlier given warning to the elders of Ephesus (Acts 20.29; cf. 2 Cor 11.13–15; Didache 11). The problem at Ephesus, then, was not a lack of orthodoxy, but a lack of charity; they had forgotten their first love (agape—verse 4).

At one time they had known fervent love (Acts 20.36–38), but now that love has grown cold. John’s words to them here stand forever as a warning to those whose zeal for doctrinal purity obscures in their minds the need for true charity. Even though the Ephesian Christians are here commended for their “works,” labor,” and “patience” (verse 2; cf. exactly these three words in 1 Thess 1.3), they have somehow fallen away from their “first works” (verse 5), as they have from their “first love.”

The paradisiacal imagery of verse 7 comes from Genesis and will appear again in the final chapter of Revelation. The first of these seven letters to the Asian churches, then, makes it clear that the most serious dangers facing those churches did not come from external threat and persecution, but from spiritual problems within.

Thursday, November 22

Psalms 101 (Greek & Latin 100): This psalm is a hymn of dedication and promise on the part of God’s servant, and its reference to the punishment of evildoers has prompted some critics to see in it the kind of righteous political program possibly associated with a royal enthronement. Indeed, the psalm is ascribed to David.

Along with such a political reading of the text, nonetheless, this psalm applies also to the humbler, yet perhaps more substantial task of the governance of one’s own home. Twice here we find the expression “my house”—“I have walked in the innocence of my heart, in the midst of my house” and “The man who practices arrogance will not lodge in the midst of my house.” This psalm may be read, then, as a text concerned with the godly governance of a man’s household.

A house is an intentionally structured reality; it is quite different from dwelling in a cave or abiding under the branches of a tree. A house is designed; it is shaped according to a pattern, and the integrity of the house depends on its adherence to principles and laws. And what is true of the house is true likewise of the household, which is also structured according to principles and laws.

A household, moreover, is “hierarchical,” a Greek word indicating that its structure, its ordering, is sacral and stands under the aegis of heavenly prerogative. Founded on divinely sanctioned authority, families are hierarchical realities. Family homes are eminently prescriptive institutions, the loci of inherited wisdom and the transmission of identity and culture. It is in homes that we learn to speak, and therefore to think. It is in homes that we learn to relate to other people and are thus cultured into human beings.

Proper, godly governance of one’s house is called “economics,” another Greek word that literally means “house law.” Perhaps most often understood nowadays solely in terms of the material resources of a household, economics certainly means a great measure more. A house is a human institution, after all, and a properly human existence involves dimensions far beyond the maintenance of physical and material conditions. If man is truly to be man, he does not live by bread alone. Indeed, with respect to those material and physical things needed for the household, our unique Economist affirmed that, if we will seek first the Kingdom of God and His justice, all these other things would be given to us as well. The standing or falling of houses has less to do with the material than with the moral, for the pursuit of justice is the true foundation of a house.
The house in this psalm is also, of course, the house of God, the great hall of the supper of the Lamb, to which, once again our Economist tells us, many are called but few are chosen. This psalm describes what it means not to be clothed in that proper wedding garment, the wearing of which saves a man from being ejected into the outer darkness: “No perverse heart has been my companion. . . . The man who speaks unjust things will not abide before my eyes.”

Friday, November 23

Psalms 102 (Greek & Latin 101): This psalm is structured on a contrast, pursued through two sequences. The first half of the first sequence is all “I”—I am miserable, I am sad, my heart withers away like the grass in the heat, I lie awake at night, I feel like a mournful bird, I mingle my drink with tears, my days flee like the shadows of an evening, and so forth. Life being rough, a goodly number of our days are passed with such sentiments, so it is usually not difficult to pray this part of the psalm.

The second half of the first sequence arrives with the expression, “but You, O Lord,” which is just as emphatic in the Hebrew (we’attah Adonai) and the Greek (sy de Kyrie). “You” is contrasted with “I.” God is not like me; God is almighty and does what He wants and does not die. God is enthroned forever, and His name endures from generation to generation. God will arise and deliver His people.

The second and shorter contrasting sequence repeats the first. Once again, as at the beginning, there is the sense of our human frailty, our shortened days, our strength broken at midcourse. To this is contrasted the eternity of God; His years endure unto all generations. Thus, both sequences in this psalm form contrasts between the permanence of God and the transience of everything created.

The God addressed in this psalm is Christ our Lord, a point made clear in Hebrews 1, which quotes it as a prayer to Christ. The author had just quoted Psalm 45 (44) about the permanence of Christ’s throne (“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever . . .”), a verse strikingly similar to a verse in the present (“But You, O Lord, are enthroned forever . . .”). Quoting the other psalm seems to lead naturally to quoting this one, and the author of Hebrews proceeds to do so, still addressing it to Christ: “You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, / And the heavens are the work of Your hands. / They will perish, but You remain; / And they will all grow old like a garment; / Like a cloak You will fold them up, / And they will be changed. / But You are the same, / And Your years will not fail” (Heb. 1:10–12).

In this psalm, then, as we pray it through New Testament eyes, the God who made the heavens is Christ our Lord. This idea is thematic in the first chapter of Hebrews, which begins by affirming that “God . . . has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds” (vv. 1, 2). To the impermanence of the heavens, then, is contrasted the permanence, and therefore complete dependability, of Christ: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8). Heaven and earth will pass away, but His words will never pass away.