April 10 – April 17, 2020

Good Friday, April 10

Matthew 26:57—27:61: Jesus is tried before two different tribunals: a Jewish trial by the Sanhedrin and a Roman trial before Pilate. Matthew joins the first of these to the denials by Peter, and the second to the suicide of Judas.

Matthew’s double construction accomplishes two things: First, it varies the narrative by alternating stages: the story begins with Jesus, goes to Peter, comes back to Jesus, goes to Judas, and finally returns to Jesus once again.

Second, because Matthew joins a specific disciple to each of Jesus’ interrogations, he indicates the dimension of discipleship in the Passion narrative. Thus, the drama of the Cross is not isolated from the trial and trauma of the soul. That is to say, what transpires in the salvation wrought by God in Jesus finds a resonating correspondence in the human struggle of failure and repentance, treachery and despair. The ironic tragedy of the Cross is reflected in the inner battle of the disciple’s soul.

Third, Matthew’s narrative construction encourages the reader to contrast Peter and Judas as two types of response to sin and redemption. In fact, Christians over the centuries have followed Matthew’s encouragement in this respect.

Although the judicial inquiry during the night had determined Jesus to merit death, it appears that the formal decision to make this determination was reached only toward the morning.

It is not hard to understand why this was the case: Although the Sanhedrin found Jesus guilty of blasphemy, it was very doubtful that the Roman authorities would be much impressed by this charge. This morning session of the Sanhedrin, therefore, involved further legal counsel (symboulion) to decide exactly what charge would be made against Jesus when He was presented before Pilate. In fact, according to Matthew, the accusation was altered from blasphemy to sedition and revolution: Jesus, it was alleged, had claimed to be the rightful “King of the Jews” (27:11).

Pontius Pilate, now appearing for the first time in Matthew, is identified by his title of hegemon, meaning governor, procurator, or prefect (27:2). Pilate held this office from A.D. 26 to 36. Residing and ruling at Caesarea, he was currently in Jerusalem to help keep order in the city during the Passover, when much larger crowds sometimes occasioned disturbances.

Jesus’ enemies “hand Him over” (paredokan) to this Gentile ruler, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Jesus (20:19). This manumission was necessary, because the Roman government reserved the death penalty specifically to its own authority (John 18:31).

In handing Jesus over to the authority of the Gentiles, the Jewish leaders were explicitly rejecting Jesus and His messianic claims. In due course, Matthew will explain that the Jewish people as such, represented in the crowd that gathered before Pilate, consents to that rejection (27:25). That action in Pilate’s presence was a decisive turning point in salvation history. It represented what St. Paul described as the cutting off of branches from the ancient tree of Israel (Romans 11:16-24).

Even from a secular view of Jewish history, moreover, that repudiation of Jesus was decisive. From that hour, the history of the Jewish people took a different and profoundly altered direction. Even though theology insists that the Jews have never ceased to be God’s people (Romans 9:11), the historical condition of their calling was changed beyond anything imaginable prior to that time. Within the space of a few years the Jews lost their temple and the worship associated with that temple. That loss, which would have bewildered all the prophets and sages of the Hebrew Bible, has now lasted almost two millennia.

Holy Saturday, April 11

Matthew 27:62-66: Matthew alone tells the story of the elaborate security provided by the Jewish leaders to guarantee that the body of Jesus would not be stolen (verses 62-66). This account must be completed by a later one (28:11-13),in which those same enemies insist that the body was stolen! Matthew’s interest here is likewise apologetic.

Pilate’s answer to those leaders made no attempt to disguise his impatience and scorn: “You have a guard. Get out of here and guard the tomb. You know how” (verse 65).

Matthew’s style is freighted with irony. Quoting their fear that “the last deception will be worse than the first,” he identifies the deceivers as Jesus’ enemies. This last ruse of theirs will truly be worse than the earlier efforts. Matthew recorded this material, of course, looking back through the lens of what finally transpired!

Psalms 16 (Greek & Latin 15): In addition to showing His disciples the truth of His Resurrection “by many infallible proofs, being seen of them for forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3), the newly risen Lord took special care likewise to explain to the Church the authentic meaning of Holy Scripture. Indeed, we know that the day of Resurrection itself was partly devoted to this task (cf. Luke 24:25–27, 44, 45).

Thus, the Church’s proper interpretation of Holy Scripture down through the centuries is rooted in what the Lord Himself taught her during those forty days spoken of in Acts 1:3. The correct understanding of the Bible is based on what the Church learned directly from the risen Christ. Her interpretation of Holy Scripture is inseparable from the hearing of the living Lord’s voice (John 20:16), the handling of His flesh (Luke 24:39, 40; 1 John 1:1), the touching of His wounds (John 20:27). The Church’s experience of the risen Christ is the source of all correct understanding of Holy Scripture.

These considerations, moreover, bear a special relevance to the interpretation of the Book of Psalms, for this section of the Bible, which became the Church’s official prayer book for all times, was singled out for specific consideration (Luke 24:44). On Pascha, the Sunday of the Resurrection, when the Lamb came forward and “took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne” (Rev. 5:7) and began forthwith to open its seals (6:1), the Church commenced likewise her understanding of the psalms. From that day forward, the prayer of the Church would be rooted in the vision that the Lord gave her in His opening of the Psalter.

We may be sure that today’s was among those interpreted to the Church by the risen Christ, for this was the first psalm that she exegeted in her very first sermon when she came rushing with power from the upper room on Pentecost. According to the Apostle Peter, who preached that sermon, this psalm describes the Resurrection of Christ.

Since Psalm 16 speaks of the Lord’s Resurrection in terms of a future hope, rather than of an accomplished fact, there would seem to be a special propriety in praying this psalm on Saturday, the very day that the Lord’s body lay in the grave and His soul was in Hades. It may thus serve to prepare for the celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection each following Sunday, when the Lamb begins to open the seals.

And as David prayed this psalm in persona Christi, looking forward to the one who was to come, so do Christians, when they pray this psalm, identify themselves in hope with the risen Christ, for we too will rise with Him: “And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power” (1 Cor. 6:14); “He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus” (2 Cor. 4:14); “He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies” (Rom. 8:11).

Easter Sunday, April 12

Matthew 28:1-10: “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” preserve the continuity with the Passion story. As they were witnesses to Jesus’ death (27:56) and burial (27:61), so now they will be witnesses to His empty tomb (verse 1).

Matthew, who seems eager to press on with the rest of the story, omits t he reason for their coming to the tomb (Mark 16:1). To him, this detail would be nearly a distraction. Thus, he also omits the ladies’ discussion about how to open the tomb (Mark 16:3).

They find the tomb already opened, not to let Jesus out, but to let visitors in. This angel—if it is not irreverent to think of him as a “gentleman”—knows to open the door for ladies.

The myrrh-bearing women, perhaps already startled by the earthquake (an image favored by Matthew—see 8:24; 27:54), approach the tomb. The impressive appearance of the angel probably does nothing to reassure them (verse 3), and it certainly had its effect on the soldiers guarding the tomb (verse 4). These soldiers will later claim to have slept on guard (verse 13), which is a bit of an understatement.

As often in prophetic literature (Daniel, Zechariah, Revelation), the angel explains what is happening (verses 5-7). Indeed, this empty tomb requires an explanation. When Matthew’s Gospel ends, moreover, the difference between Jew and Christian will be their differing explanations for the empty tomb.

The announcing angel, having reassured these frightened women, reminds them that Jesus had already predicted this day and this event (verse 6; 16:21-23; 17:22-23; 20:18-19). In fact, Jesus had also promised to meet His disciples in Galilee (verse 7; 26:32; c. Mark 16:7).

Learning the news of the resurrection, the women disciples go rushing out, to be the first human heralds of the event that changed the world (verse 8). The brief scene of their sudden meeting with Jesus (verses 9-10) may record the same incident of which St. John provides such a theologically rich account (John 20:11-18—Note that in both accounts Jesus refers to the disciples as “my brothers.”)

In a manner typical of Matthew’s narrative, these women “adore” Jesus (cf. 2:2,8,11; 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 20:20; 28:17).

Psalms 110 (Greek & Latin 109): In all of the Psalter, is there a line more precious and beloved than this? No other line of the Book of Psalms enjoys, in the New Testament, a prominence equal to these opening words of this psalm. In the traditions reflected in the Synoptic Gospels, for example, Christians remembered that Jesus had quoted this verse in controversy with some of His rabbinical opponents (cf. Matt. 22:44; Mark 12:36; Luke 20:42) and that the context for His citation was the decisive and great kerygmatic question of the Lord’s identity: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” (Matt. 22:42). In these few words of the Psalter, “The Lord said to my Lord,” Christians learned that Jesus is not only David’s descendant but also his preexisting Lord. He is the Son, not only of David, but of God.

Having mysteriously addressed the identity of Christ, this same line of our psalm goes on to speak of His triumph and enthronement, with the solemn proclamation: “Sit at My right hand.” These majestic words were quoted in the first sermon of the Christian Church, that of Pentecost morning at the third hour (cf. Acts 2:34), and became the foundation of some of the most important Christological and soteriological statements of the New Testament (cf. Mark 16:19; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2.).

Monday, April 13

Mark 16:9-20: Because these final verses of the canonical text of Mark are found neither in the more reliable manuscripts (Sinaiticus and Vaticanus) nor in other ancient versions (Armenian, Georgian, etc.), it is reasonably conjectured that we have received them from a hand later than Mark himself. It would appear that they were added by a copyist who felt that Mark 16:8 was too abrupt an ending, so he added these post-Resurrection appearances in order to make the ending of Mark more closely resemble the endings of the other gospels.

In fact, the components of this material is largely drawn from those sources: The story of Mary Magdalene (verses 9-11) is drawn from John and Luke; the account of the two journeying disciples (verses 12-13) is taken from Luke; the Great Commission (verses 14-18) is adapted from Matthew, Luke, and the Acts of the Apostles; and the Lord’s Ascension comes from Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.

These considerations, however, have to do solely with literary history, not theology. They impugn neither the divine inspiration nor the canonical authority of Mark 16:9-20, inasmuch as the Church has received this text as Holy Scripture.

Ezekiel 3: The point of eating the scroll was that the prophet should internalize God’s message, assimilating it into his own being, so that he could speak God’s word as his own (cf. Revelation 10:8-11). It remains one of the great images of prophetic inspiration: “All my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart.”

Thus, we believe that the teaching of the Pentateuch is not simply the word of God, but also the word of Moses. We contend that God spoke to Moses through divine inspiration, a Spirit-breathed process that included the thinking and imaginative powers of . . . Moses. Biblical Inspiration means that God’s word was filtered through—digested by—fermented in—the mind and heart of a human author.

Revelation comes to us, accordingly, through the inner anguish of Jeremiah, the soaring minds of John and Isaiah, the probing questions of Job and Habakkuk, the near despair of Qoheleth, the structured poetry of David, the disappointments of Jonah, the struggles of Nehemiah, the mystic raptures of Ezekiel, the slow, patient scholarship of Ezra, the careful narrative style of Mark, the historical investigations of Luke, and that pounding mill, the ponderous thinking of Paul.

God’s Word finds expression in inspired literature, because it first assumed flesh in human thought and imagination. This truth is indicated in that vision where Ezekiel sees God’s word on a scroll that he must eat. That is to say, God’s word always comes to us in a fermented, pre-digested form.

This great vision is then followed by seven days of reflection (verses 15-16), at the end of which Ezekiel is made aware of his new vocation as a watchman for God’s people. Whether they heed him or not, the watchman has a divinely commissioned responsibility to give proper warning. This theme will return in Chapter 33.

Tuesday, April 14

Luke 24:13-49: At the end of Luke’s Gospel, in the very act of sending the Apostles out to evangelize the world, Jesus “opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45). The proclamation of the Gospel was to include the incorporation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Christian theology begins with—and is inseparable from— understanding the Old Testament as Jesus understood it.

At last, his points of instruction having been made, Jesus “took bread, said the blessing, and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished from their sight.” The two disciples promptly turn around and head back to Jerusalem. As they return, they reflect that their hearts burned within them as the Stranger spoke to them on the way and interpreted the Scriptures.

Ezekiel 4: Here begins a sequence of symbolic actions that Ezekiel is commanded to perform, as though in pantomime, to serve as efficacious signs to his brethren in the Captivity. These actions function as prophecies too, prophecies conveyed in sign language as it were. These prophetic actions have their counterparts elsewhere in Holy Scripture, such as the symbolic names that Hosea and Isaiah gave their children, and Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree.

The first of Ezekiel’s signs, a sort of symbolic enactment of the siege of Jerusalem, involves the prophet playing like a child with building blocks, placing the various pieces into an elaborate scene, accompanied by a narrative. Children do this kind of game all the time. A solitary child, indeed, may spend hours at it, telling himself the story as he moves the little pieces around.

The second action, more abstract, symbolizes the punishment of Israel and Judah, the former destroyed in 722 and the latter to be destroyed in the near future.

The prophet’s third action portrays the suffering of the siege about to come upon Jerusalem. Most significant to this prophetic priest is the ritual uncleanness that must accompany the preparation of the food and the circumstances of the people’s defeat. In the few words that Ezekiel himself speaks in this chapter, we observe the intense emotional pain felt by the prophet in the enactment of these symbolic gestures.

Psalms 106 (Greek & Latin 105): The praise of God in this psalm, then, springs from the consideration of God’s fidelity to His people notwithstanding their own infidelities to Him: “Praise the Lord, for He is gracious, for His mercy endures forever!”

The examples of the people’s continued sin are drawn from the accounts of the Exodus and the Desert Wandering, a period of such egregious unfaithfulness that only a few of that entire generation were finally permitted to enter the Promised Land. The examples are detailed: the constant murmuring against the Lord both in Egypt and in the desert, the rebellion of Dathan and Abiron, the cult of the golden calf, the succumbing to temptation from the Moabites and other moral compromises with the surrounding nations, child-sacrifice to Moloch, and so forth. In all of these things God nonetheless proved His patience and fidelity to the people of His covenant: “Who will tell the mighty deeds of the Lord, or make all His praises heard?”

Wednesday, April 15

John 20:1-10: The earliest Christians insisted that Jesus rose in his very body, the body numerically identical to the one in which he died on the cross. The Gospel accounts—in the measure they reflect Christian apologetics—are emphatic on this point. The risen Jesus commands his friends: “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Handle me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Luke 24:38). The post-Resurrection accounts depict Jesus as being touched (John 20:27), embraced (Matthew 28:9), and clung to (John 20:17). These experiences were physical.

At the same time, those who preached the Resurrection of Christ did not think he had simply been restored to what he was before. He was not a resuscitated corpse. They knew him to be alive in an entirely new way—-alive beyond the reach of death. He was risen, said the Apostle Paul, “in power” (Romans 1:4). To those who believed in the Gospel, the physical body of Jesus, risen from the grave, was proof that death had been definitively conquered.

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 107 (Greek & Latin 106): describes a series of adversities suffered by God’s servants, along with His continued intervention to deliver them from all such troubles. It is an historical meditation for attaining contemplative wisdom; its final line asks, “Who is wise and will guard these things, and will understand the mercies of the Lord?”

Among the distresses of God’s servants, as our psalm narrates them, we may identify two sections, one near the beginning and one close to the end, as dealing with the sufferings associated with the wandering of the people in the desert.

Between these two sections are three others that describe a situation of imprisonment or bondage, a sickness, and a storm at sea. All of these depictions are colorful and detailed. Two refrains bind all the parts together: “Then they cried to the Lord in their tribulation, and He delivered them from their every distress,” and “Let them confess the Lord for His mercies, and His wonders to the sons of men.” These various afflictions may be understood literally or by way of metaphor, or as combinations of these.

Thursday, April 16

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 108 (Greek & Latin 107): This psalm describes a holy warfare, for it is fought by a holy people: “In God shall we do valiantly, and He will bring our oppressors to naught.” Through us, made holy with His sanctification, will the Lord throughout the day arise and divide Shechem, and measure out the valley of Succoth, taking possession of Gilead and Ephraim, Manasseh and Moab. By reason of our sanctification, through our lives, the rest of the world is to be sanctified. Especially are we to conquer the reputedly impregnable fortress of Edom, those very gates of Hades that the Lord says will not be able to withstand the onslaught of the Church’s faith in Him (cf. Matt. 16:18).

Psalms 109 (Greek & Latin 108): In the calamitous career of Judas Iscariot, then, we have the interpretive key and context to this very disturbing Psalm 108. It is a sustained reference to that most unfortunate man of whom Truth Himself said: “It would have been good for that man if he had never been born” (Mark 14:21).

It is no wonder that some Christians find this psalm unsettling, for it is concerned with the danger of damnation. During the several minutes that it takes to pray through this psalm, we are brought face to face with the real possibility of eternal loss and reminded that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). No one enjoys being warned that the apostasy of Judas could be chosen by any one of us. Yet, the story pointedly appears in all four Gospels. Over and over, eight times, the New Testament stresses that the betrayer arose from among the chosen, “one of the Twelve.” Such too is the distressing, but very necessary, sane, and sobering thought raised in this important psalm.

Friday, April 17

1 Peter 1:13-25: This section is an invitation to hope (verses 13,21). Christian hope is sustained by a twofold consideration. First, it is inspired by the final goal of the life in Christ (verses 13-17), and second, by the initial grace of the life in Christ (verses 18-21).

With respect to the first, hope is directed to the final “revelation of Jesus Christ,” his “being made visible” (apokalypsis—verses 7,13; 4:13). Relying “completely” (teleios) on this hope, believers refuse to conform to the deeds of their past, aware of their responsibility to be holy, even as God is holy (verses 14-16; Leviticus 19:2; 18:1-5,30; Clement of Rome, To the Corinthians 29.1—30.1).

In the New Testament the expression “be not conformed” (me syschematizesthe, in which we observe the English word “schema”) is found only here (verse 14) and in Romans 12:2—“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (We observe in passing that both of these works are associated with the church at Rome.) No less than the Chosen People of old, Christians are called to be a holy people in the midst of an unholy world. The latter is characterized by “ignorance” and “passions” (verse 14). We may compare this passage with 1 Thessalonians 4:5—“not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God.”

Christians are reminded that God’s judgment discerns the difference between His “holy ones” (“saints”) and the world (verse 17). In view of this divine discernment, Christians are to be ever mindful of the coming judgment (Romans 14:10-11; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 4:4; 2 Corinthians 5:10-11). Christian hope is not without this appropriate “fear” (en phobo—verse 17; cf. 2:18; 3:2,16; Acts 9:31).

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.