March 27 – April 3, 2020

Friday, March 27

1 Corinthians 6:12-20: 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? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not!”

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.

Our bodies do not belong to us. They have been purchased. Paul writes: “For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body, which belongs to God.” This truth of the Christian faith is derided in the modern world, where we actually hear people boast, “No one can tell me what to do with my body!” In the Church of God, however, the human body is not an entity alien to salvation. On the contrary, our very limbs and organs belong to Christ. Paul inquired of the Corinthians, then: “Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot?”

More particularly, by our incorporation (Latin corpus=”body) into Christ, our bodies become mystical extensions of His own body. This incorporation commences at Baptism and strengthened each time we partake of the Mystical Supper of the Altar. In this same epistle, Paul writes to the Corinthians: “For we many are one bread, one body, for we all partake of that one bread.” Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not mere symbols of grace; they are the channels of grace, the means by which the divine life flows into our flesh with the energies of transformation and immortality.

In the texts the Apostle to the Gentiles identifies the sacramental foundation of Christian bodily holiness. And very much to the same point, Jesus proclaims, “I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Saturday, March 28

Nahum 2: In at least one respect, Nahum is unique in all the Bible—what he announced was exactly what his contemporaries most wanted to hear! Most biblical prophets, after all, are “countervailing.”

That is to say, most of the time we find them resisting, even denouncing, the popular mind of their day. They usually speak in a direction about 180 degrees at variance with the temper of their times. Thus, if God’s people are content and self-satisfied, the biblical prophets step in and give them something to worry about. If, on the other hand, God’s people are depressed and weary, the prophets’ word to them is normally encouraging and full of promise. In short, the word of the prophet is most often just the opposite of what the people are disposed to hear, a feature that tends to render the prophet a tad unpopular in his own time. It is easy to show that this countervailing disposition rules in most of the Bible’s prophetic books.

Not in the Book of Nahum, however. His was a word that all expected, and no Israelites were sad to hear! Shortly before the fall of the Assyrian capital, Nineveh, in 612, Nahum announced its coming destruction in the most vivid terms. to the universal jubilation of his listeners. Assyria, after all, was the scourge of its time. Ever since its rise a few centuries earlier, the empire ruled from Nineveh had inflicted countless sufferings across the Fertile Crescent. As prophesied by Amos, the Assyrians under Emperor Sargon II had conquered the Kingdom of Israel in 722, carrying away the ten northern tribes to a bitter captivity, and other nations of the Middle East suffered an identical fate.

Moreover, the Assyrians destroyed the Phoenician capital of Tyre and conquered the Nile Delta. Meanwhile, the nations of Judah, Syria, Ammon, Moab, and Edom were held under Assyrian subjection and tribute. Only a miraculous intervention had preserved Jerusalem itself from destruction by the Emperor Sennacherib. It is not surprising that the Assyrians were thoroughly and roundly hated throughout the lands of the Bible. We recall with what reluctance the Prophet Jonah had preached repentance to the Ninevites back in the eighth century, for he did not want them to repent!

By the beginning of the seventh century, nonetheless, a new empire was rising to challenge Assyria—namely, a rejuvenated Babylon. Perhaps the latter power seemed harmless at first. We recall that King Hezekiah of Judah, late in his reign, received a Babylonian delegation, foolishly showing them the treasures of his kingdom, never suspecting that these Babylonians would soon return to claim that treasure. Isaiah, however, a keen interpreter of his times, foresaw it all.

Neither in the Bible nor in other ancient records is it clear exactly how the Assyrian Empire arrived at the decline that marked its existence by the mid-seventh century, though one suspects that it had simply grown too large to be manageable. More than one empire in history has been taught the danger of having too many borders to defend. In 614, when combined forces of Babylonians and Medes destroyed Assyria’s older capital, the city of Ashur, the Prophet Nahum sensed that the end of its newer capital, Nineveh, was not far off. The three chapters of his prophecies should be dated between 614 and 612.

Sunday, March 29

Nahum 3: Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, was a most impressive city for that time. Its containing wall was 8 miles long and embraced about 1,850 acres, or 2.89 square miles. It was full of palaces built by Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, and Ashurbanipal. Its temples to Ishtar and Nabu were world famous. It was full of wealth drawn from the whole region between Egypt and the Persian Gulf. Most Assyrians may have thought that the empire and its capital would last forever.

Not so, said Nahum, going on to described Nineveh’s impending destruction in very colorful scenes that depict the scarlet tunics of the invading armies, the rumbling of horses’ hooves and chariot wheels, the brandishing of spears, the flaming torches put to the buildings. In short, “Woe to the bloody city!”

Psalm 66 (Greek & Latin 65): This psalm’s reference to the drying up of the waters in Psalm 65 (Hebrew 66) suggests that its original context was the celebration of the Passover and Israel’s liberation from slavery in Egypt, themes manifestly understood in the New Testament as types of the new Christian Pascha: “He turns the sea into dry land; through the river they will walk on foot.”

There is further reason for believing that Christian tradition has ever understood this psalm as referring to the mystery of Pascha. Most Greek biblical manuscripts of it add a single word supplementing the inscription. To the psalm’s Hebrew title, which reads simply “To the choirmaster—a song—a psalm,” the majority of Greek manuscripts adjoin the word anastaseos, “of the resurrection,” a reading that is followed in the Latin tradition as well. Thus, according to the general Christian manuscript tradition of Psalm 65, it is “a psalm of the resurrection.”

The “works” of God being celebrated in this psalm, then, and for which we give thanks to His name, have to do with His accomplishing of our redemption in the paschal mystery, the death and Resurrection of Christ our Lord.

Similarly the psalm’s references to deliverance from enemies should be read in the context of the drama of Holy Week and the redemption thereby won. This is a psalm about the passage from death to life, for the enemies of the human race are sin and death. It is from these that Christ has set us free, restoring us to eternal favor with God: “He set my soul in life and does not let my footsteps falter. For You, O God, have tested us, You have smelted us as silver. You have brought us into a trap; You laid affliction on our back and caused men to lord it over us. We passed through fire and water, but You have brought us back to life.”

Monday, March 30

Matthew 24:1-14: It was Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the Temple that provided the accusations brought forth at His trial before the Sanhedrin, and it was the subject of the jeers that his enemies hurled at him as he hung on the cross. Moreover, the position occupied by our Lord’s prophecy here indicates the relationship between the death of Jesus and the downfall of Jerusalem. We observe that this prophecy follows immediately on Jesus’ lament over the holy city.

This discourse forms a sort of last testimony of Jesus, in which the Church is provided with a final injunction and moral exhortation. In this respect it is similar to the farewell discourses of Jacob, Moses, Joshua, and Samuel. That is to say, it serves the purpose of instructing the Christian Church how to live during the period (literally “eon” in Greek) that will last until the Lord’s second coming.

This conduct will be especially marked by vigilance, so that believers may not be “deceived.” They will suffer persecution, Jesus foretells, and he goes on to make two points with respect to this persecution. They must not lose heart, and second, it does not mean that the end is near. They must persevere to the end.

Jonah 1: Jonah’s is a story full of paradox and irony, characteristics that mark both the person of the prophet and his career. Commanded by the Lord to go and preach repentance to the Ninevites, he proceeds in the very opposite direction, boarding a ship at the port of Joppa, headed to Tarshish (Cadiz, beyond the Straits of Gibraltar) at the other end of the Mediterranean Sea.

While other biblical prophets, such as Moses and Jeremiah, showed themselves reluctant to comply with their prophetic call, Jonah seems to be the only one whose reluctance was inspired by the fear of being successful! It is an important feature of this story that Jonah did not want the Ninevites to be converted; he wanted them justly punished, not spared.

The original account of Jonah’s call does not tell us this fact; we learn it only at the end of the book: “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness, One who relents from doing harm” (4:2).

Then, in his very flight Jonah discovers another paradox of the Lord’s mercy, its uncanny capacity for bringing good out of evil. Thus, the prophet’s very infidelity to God’s call is turned into the means by which the pagan sailors come to know and worship the true God (1:16). Thus, Jonah’s prophetic ministry, precisely because of his attempted disobedience to it, is enhanced by the conversion of two sets of people.

Tuesday, March 31

Matthew 24:15-35: The bdelygma tou eremoseos—literally “the Abomination of Desolation”—is a Greek translation of a Hebrew expression found three times in the prophet Daniel (9:27; 11:31; 12:11; cf. 1 Maccabees 1:54), to refer to the idol erected to Zeus in the Second Temple by the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes (1 Maccabees 1:54-64). The desecration, which had occurred in 167 B.C, only two centuries earlier, was still a vivid memory to the Jews, who understandably regarded it as a low point in their history and a source of profound shock and outrage. At that time the Temple itself was stripped of its adornments; other pagan altars were erected, and unclean animals were sacrificed upon them (Josephus, Antiquities 12.54). This had been a time of great persecution of the righteous Jews by the unrighteous, not only by pagans but also by fellow Jews.

We observe that Matthew, unlike Mark and Luke, explicitly sends the reader to Daniel in order to explain this reference to the Abomination of Desolation. In Daniel the Hebrew expression for Abomination of Desolation is hashuqqus meshomem, appears to be a parody of the name that refers to Zeus, ba‘al shamayim, “lord of heaven.”

Matthew repeats Mark’s parenthetical note, “let the reader understand.” This exhortation, which clearly comes from the evangelists and not from Jesus, perhaps calls attention to the plan of the Roman emperor Caligula to erect a statue of himself in the Temple in A.D. 40. This proposed desecration of the holy place would have repeated what had occurred two centuries earlier under Antiochus IV Epiphanes. This seems to be what both Mark and Matthew had in mind.

The first particular of the Lord’s exhortation is flight to the mountains (verse 16), which is exactly what the Maccabees did during the crisis of 167 B.C. Their flight, we recall, was not a surrender. It provided, rather, the opportunity to organize and consolidate their resistance to the enemy. Likewise, all Christian flight is intended as a means of carrying on the battle. Sometimes, in order to be victorious, there is a need for a strategic withdrawal for the purpose of achieving later advantage.

Jonah 2: Because of Jonah’s disobedience, God shifts to what may be called “Plan W” in His project to save the Ninevites. A great whale or sea monster swallows the prophet, but then, in the belly of this beast, Jonah proceeds to sing a hymn of praise for God’s salvation (2:9).

This too is paradoxical, because the salvation celebrated in this book is manifold. It is God’s twofold liberation of Jonah, both the deliverance from his own infidelity by the sending of the whale and his coming rescue from the whale itself; it is the Lord’s care for the pagan sailors; and, finally, it is the mercy shown to the Ninevites.

Wednesday, April 1

Matthew 24:36-51: Jesus sends us to the story of Noah at the time of the flood. All the signs of impending danger were present, but only Noah was able to read them. According to the Epistle to the Hebrews, “By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (11:7).

But Noah not only lived in righteousness; he also proclaimed righteousness. The Apostle Peter referred to him as “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5), and late in the first century Clement of Rome wrote that “Noah preached repentance, and those who heeded him were saved” (7.6).

This picture of Noah as a righteous preacher of repentance came to the early Christians from Jewish lore about that famous builder of the ark. Flavius Josephus wrote of Noah’s relationship to his contemporaries in this way: “Noah was most uncomfortable with their actions, and, not at all happy with their conduct, he persuaded them to improve their dispositions and their actions. Seeing, nonetheless, that they did not obey him but remained slaves to their own wicked desires, he feared that they would slay him, together with his wife and children, as well as the spouses of the latter, so he departed out of that land” (Antiquities 13.1).

Unable to convert his contemporaries, Noah then followed the divine leading to build an ark for the delivery of his family. He knew that God intended to flood the earth and destroy its wicked. This is what things will be like, says our Lord, at the end of the world.

The similarity between “days of Noah” and the “advent” (parousia–verses 3,27,37,39) of the Son of Man consists in the suddenness of the crisis. Not until it is actually upon them do men realize what is happening. It is literally a kataklysmos (verses 38,39), from the verb klyzo, “to wash over,” “to wash away.” The people in Noah’s time, like those at the beginning of The Plague, by Albert Camus, were living what they thought were normal lives, not expecting the catastrophe about to befall them. This is how it will be when the Son of Man returns.

Jonah 3: The three days spent by Jonah in the whale’s belly comprise half of his active ministry; his next three days are spent walking through Nineveh. Indeed, his entire prophetic message took only half a verse of the story’s text. Complying with the barest literal sense of the Lord’s command, he simply announces the city’s destruction, with not a single word about repentance nor the faintest ray of hope. Jonah promptly leaves the city, unaware of its response to his message.

Thursday, April 2

Matthew 23:1-22: This discourse is directed to Jesus’ disciples, who are warned not to follow the example of the scribes and Pharisees (verses 1-3). The “seat of Moses” is a metaphor for the teaching authority of these men. We observe that Matthew regards these men as still having authority, very much as we find the Apostle Paul recognizing the authority of the high priest and the Sanhedrin. This authority, says the Sacred Text, is to be respected. It is the men that hold that authority who are not to be imitated!

In what respect are they not to be imitated? They lay heavy burdens on men’s backs. In context these are the burdens of legalism, a weight that makes the service of God onerous and unbearable (verse 4). This is a form of religious oppression. These “heavy burdens,” which contrast with the “light burden” of the Gospel (11:30), consisted of the numerous rules, regulations, and rubrics that governed the lives of their fellow Jews. Matthew is at one with Paul that these myriad matters were no longer essential.

Jonah 4: As we have seen, the three days spent by Jonah in the whale’s belly comprise half of his active ministry; his next three days are spent walking through Nineveh (3:3). After those six days, of course, it is time for the Sabbath rest, and Jonah plans to spend his Sabbath reclining under the shade of a vine.

Like murderous Cain going to the land of Nod (cf. Genesis 4:16), he proceeds to the east of the city (Jonah 4:5).

Alas, Jonah saw, his half verse of apparently unfulfilled prophecy bore more immediate fruit than any other preaching recorded in the
Bible! It was enough to make the vindictive prophet wish for death (4:3, 8). This detail, reminiscent of the identical wish of Elijah (1 Kings
19:4), is ironic by reason of the sharp contrast between the two men.
The final chapter portrays our poor vindictive prophet lamenting the loss of his sheltering vine, feeling the sun and hot wind beating on his head, and arguing with the God who endeavors to bring him to repentance. Will Jonah too repent, as did the Ninevites, and be converted? It is most significant that the Book of Jonah ends with this question put to the prophet himself.

Moreover, the very presence of Jonah within the biblical canon is itself a point of paradox. As we have seen, the burden of the story is that God spared sinful Nineveh because its citizens repented at Jonah’s preaching. Yet the rabbinical authorities who placed this book into the canon were well aware that Nineveh, spared for its repentance in Jonah’s century, was finally punished for its sins during the century of Jeremiah and Nahum. They had to realize that Jonah’s desire for Nineveh’s destruction, while it certainly casts no credit on the prophet in the book that bears his name, was somehow vindicated by subsequent history.

Indeed, in the Book of Nahum we seem to find raised to canonical dignity those identical sentiments for which Jonah, in his book, was divinely reprimanded. It is a sort of canonical irony that Jonah and Nahum stand only a few pages from one another in the Sacred Text.

Finally, there is the sharper irony in Our Lord’s appeal to reluctant, vindictive Jonah as a type even of Himself: “For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation. . . . The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here” (Luke 11:30, 32).

Friday, April 3

Matthew 23:23-39: The seven (or eight) “woes” in this, the Lord’s last discourse in Matthew, are to be contrasted with the seven (or eight) “blesseds” with which the first discourse began (5:3-12).

The scribes and Pharisees are censured for neglecting the weightier matters of the Torah while concentrating on small particulars of lesser moment (verse 23). The comparison of the camel and the gnat (verse 24) is reminiscent of the camel and the needle’s eye (19:24).

The burden of the Lord’s judgment falls on the failure of these hypocrites to go deeper than the mere surface letter of observance—deeper in the Torah, deeper into their own hearts, where all is corruption and death (verse 27). They clean the outside, but the neglected inside is in sorry shape (verse 25). They stay away from an interior transformation that would render valuable the observance of the Torah: judgment, mercy, and faith. This criticism, with its accent on interiority, is an echo and summary of what Israel’s prophets taught over the centuries.

Hence, these leaders deserve the “woe” that those prophets spoke against earlier infidelities (just to limit ourselves to the 8th century, cf. Amos 5:18-20; 6:1-7; Isaiah, 5 passim; 19:1-3; 28:1-4,15; 30:1-3; 31:1-4; Micah 2:1-4).

The gulf between external observance and internal corruption, which is the very essence of hypocrisy, is the chief and unifying complaint that the Lord voices against these Jewish leaders.

In addressing these hypocrites as “serpents, offspring of vipers,” the Lord takes up the early censure by John the Baptist near the Gospel’s beginning (3:7).

Their persecution of the prophets and sages (verse 34) throughout history had recently been mentioned in two parables (21:34-35; 22:6). The reference to crucifixion, alien to the Holy Land before the coming of the Romans, seems to reflect Matthew’s own time, when Jews had ill treated Christian missionaries, a thing we see repeatedly in the Acts of the Apostles, The Martyrdom of Polycarp, and other sources.

The reference to “Zechariah, the son of Barachiah,” which has never been pinned down with precision, seems to include elements of the biblical prophet Zechariah, Jehoiada’s son in 2 Chronicles 24:20-22, and the son of Beeis, whose story in narrated in Josephus (Wars 4:334-344).

All this just blood, unjustly spilt, will fall on the present “generation” (verse 36; 11:16; 12:39,41; 16:4; 17:17; 24:34). Matthew saw the fulfillment of that threat in the events associated with Jerusalem’s fall in the year 70.

Lamentations 1: This very sorrowful book describes Israel’s darkest hour: the invasion of the merciless Babylonians, the sacking of the city and the massacre of the innocent, the deliberate destruction of the Temple and the plundering of its sacred vessels, the forced deportation of its citizens to a foreign country, the particular difficulties that this placed on women, children, and old people, and so forth. It corresponds perfectly to what Jesus described as “your hour and the power of darkness.”