May 29 – June 5, 2020

Friday, May 29

Ephesians 5:8-21: There are three features on the life in Christ especially to be observed in this text: the life in Christ is fruitful, it is wise, and it is melodious.

First, the life in Christ is fruitful. It yields results. Jesus said, “a tree is known by its fruit.” Alas, some Christians seem not to know about it. Jesus tells us to look for the fruit. They imagine that they will be judged by their roots, not by their fruits. They pride and preen themselves that they belong to the true Church. They fancy that this is enough to be pleasing in God’s sight—simply because they have the proper spiritual ancestry. They look down on, and pass judgment on, other Christians that cannot boast that same spiritual ancestry.

To Christians such as these we say, with John the Baptist, “bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham” (Mt 2:9). We must not be deceived on this matter: No one has entered into everlasting life because he belonged to the true Church. That is to say, no one is in heaven because of his roots. Those who have entered into everlasting life have done so because of their fruits.

What shall we say to those who imagine that God will judge them by their roots? We will say, again with John the Baptist, “even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Mt 3:10).

These are the fruits that come from union with Christ. This is the union of which Jesus says, “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples” (John 15:8).

The present text partially describes this fruit: “for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth.” A more ample list is available in Galatians 5: “the fruit of the Spirit is charity, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

Second, the life in Christ is wise. That is to say, it is a life characterized by discernment. Paul writes in this text, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise,”

The Apostle here contrasts the wise man with the fool, a contrast elaborated at great length in the Wisdom books of the Bible. In the Book of Proverbs the wise man is described as circumspect, honest, industrious, obedient, vigilant, cautious, and self-controlled. He is contrasted with the fool, who is described as mentally lazy, dishonest, slothful, rebellious, imprudent, and undisciplined. These are the qualities that Paul mentions in the present text as “the unfruitful works of darkness.”

Wisdom is a quality of the mind and heart. It is the highest form of understanding. Wisdom is a high quality of thought, and those who avoid thinking will never become wise. God is to be loved “with the whole mind.” There is no fruitful life in Christ without the use of the mind. Therefore Paul says in the present text, “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. . . do not be unwise but understand.”

Third, the life in Christ is melodious. It is a musical life, described in Holy Scripture as singing a new song to the Lord. Thus Paul proclaims in the present text, “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” The Bible describes Paul and Silas as singing to the Lord in prison in the middle of the night.

Singing to the Lord is supposed to be a daily activity of the life in Christ. It is not something for just Sunday morning. The texts of worship are supposed to be always in our hearts, so that they may rise to our lips in melodies of praise. The cultivation of hymnody in our lives should be a matter of personal discipline.

Indeed, the memorization of psalms and hymns is part of loving God with our whole mind. How else are we to fulfill the mandate that Paul lays on our conscience in the present text, to speak “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord”?

The melodies we sing in church are not just for church. They are to nourish our hearts and minds at other times as well—while driving our cars, for instance, while cutting potatoes in the kitchen, or sweeping the floor, and certainly when taking a shower. The Christian Church is a hymn-singing religion, and it has been from the beginning. Christians are hymn singing people.

Saturday, May 30

John 17:1-10: Whereas in Luke’s presentation of Jesus’ prayer our Savior appears as the sacrificial victim, in John’s presentation he is portrayed, rather, as the sacrificing priest. Notwithstanding the subtlety of John’s portrayal, Bible-readers have for centuries described the material in John 17 as Jesus’ “high priestly prayer.” In the following reflections I will argue that those descriptions are correct.

We begin by attending to the structure of the prayer:

First, Jesus prays for himself: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You . . . And now, O Father, glorify me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”

Second, and in more detail, Jesus prays for the Apostles who are with him, his immediate family, as it were, those whose feet he has now washed: “I pray for them. . . . Keep through Your name those whom You have given me. . . I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. . . . Consecrate them in truth.”

Third, Jesus prays for the whole People of God, those who “believe in me” through the testimony of the Apostles. Jesus’ prayer for this larger group is likewise manifold; it includes the unity of the believers, the proclamation of the Gospel to the world, and the revelation of the divine glory.

Thus, Jesus prays, “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in me, and I in You . . . that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent me, and have loved them as You have loved me . . . that they may behold my glory which You have given me.”

We observe that the three-fold structure of this prayer of Jesus corresponds to the triple concern of the officiating priest on Yom Kippur, as prescribed in Leviticus 16: First—and second—the priest makes the sin offering (hahatta’th), “which is for himself, and to make atonement (kipper) for himself and for his household” (Leviticus 16:6, 11). Third, having sprinkled the blood of the victim on the mercy seat (kapporet), the priest offers another victim, “which is for the people” (16:14-15).

Thus, Leviticus directs specific attention to the triple concern of Yom Kippur, during the ritual of which the priest “makes atonement (kipper) [1] for himself, [2] for his household, and [3] for all the assembly of Israel” (16:17). John’s parallel with the Levitical text is striking.

Pentecost Sunday, May 31

John 7:37-39: It has long been the custom for the Church, at the time of Pentecost, to adorn herself in green, preeminently the color of life and hope. It is the color of chlorophyll. Indeed, this very interesting word is the combination of two Greek words, the adjective chlorós, which means “green,” and the noun phyllos, which means “leaf.” It is a normal sign by which we recognize plant life. Because this chlorine pigment, called “chlorophyll,” most strongly absorbs the red and blue wave lengths in the electromagnetic spectrum, it looks green.

At Pentecost each year, let us say, the Church puts on her chlorophyll. And she does so in order to absorb light in order to produce food.

This is, after all, what chlorophyll does. It is a catalyst for a process called “photosynthesis,” another Greek word that literally means “joining things by means of light.” A major function of chlorophyll molecules is to absorb light and transfer the energy of light to the photosystems of the living plants. It is by means of this light energy that the plant converts carbon dioxide into organic compounds, especially sugars. This process is the primary food source of all living things.

The Holy Spirit is the chlorophyll of the Church. He is the living principle that draws the diving light into the living structure of this true Vine, of which we are the branches. The Holy Spirit thus feeds us by uniting the components of our lives through a process of light.

The light of the sun is a resource of life only for plants—those creatures that are blessed with chlorophyll. The sun does not give life to rocks or dirt or even animals. That is to say, nothing receives life from the sun except those creatures endowed with chlorophyll.

The same is true of Christ our Lord, the true Sun that has arisen in our hearts. The light of Christ is life-giving by reason of the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is through the agency of the Holy Spirit that the light of Christ joins together the sundry components of our existence in order to feed us.

This happens, first of all, by the Holy Spirit’s transformation of the processes of our thought and consciousness. In the Holy Spirit, we are given a new atmosphere of self-consciousness. We are internally different by reason of the Holy Spirit’s presence as a cognitive principle in our minds.

According to the Epistle to the Romans, “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship, by whom we cry out ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself bears joint witness to our spirit that we are children of God” (8:15f). We observe in this text that the Holy Spirit bears witness, not only to who God is, but also to who we are—not only to God as Father, but also to us as his children. The Holy Spirit gives the personal knowledge of the relationship between God and ourselves. In the Holy Spirit we now know God, because we now stand in a different relationship to God as his children.

Monday, June 1

John 17:11-19: In John 17 the priestly quality of Jesus’ prayer is also apparent in its references to consecration. Here the verb hagiazo, to “sanctify” or “consecrate,” appears three times in immediate succession: “Consecrate them in truth. . . . And for their sakes I consecrate myself, that they themselves, likewise, may be consecrated in truth.”

In the traditional Greek translation (Septuagint) of the Torah, the verb hagiazo (along with its nominal cognates) is frequently found in references to the consecration of the priests and of the appointments of the priestly ministry (for instance, twelve times in Exodus 29 and six times in Leviticus 22). The use of this same verb in Jesus’ prayer summons to mind those priestly associations in the Torah. The verb’s concentrated appearance in this Johannine prayer amply explains why Christians have long referred to it as “high priestly.” This description manifests an intuition—as early as Cyril of Alexandria—that the Johannine Christ is especially Christ the Priest.

The faith of the first Christians included the perception that the priestly self-consecration of Jesus was an essential component of Redemption. That is to say, they believed that Jesus knew himself to be the priest and that, as the priest, he offered himself in sacrifice in an intentional way.
Although there is no evidence that Christians used the noun “priest” in reference to Jesus until it appeared in the Epistle to the Hebrews, the idea itself was already familiar enough for the Apostle Paul to write, “Christ loved us and handed himself over (paredoken) for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet aroma” (Ephesians 5:2). In this passage, we observe, Paul deliberately employs the language of priestly ritual to elaborate on his earlier reference to “the Son of God, loving me and handing himself over (paradontos) for me” (Galatians 2:20). It is difficult to explain Paul’s recourse to this liturgical elaboration unless he understood Jesus’ “handing over” to be sacrificial.

Acts 2:22-36: In his proclamation of the Resurrection, Peter provides a Christian understanding of Psalm 16 (Greek & Latin 15). 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).

Tuesday, June 2

1 Samuel 1: Even on an initial reading, the stories of the two women, Sarah and Hannah, are strikingly similar: First, each woman is introduced as barren. Second, both of them have “rivals” within their marriages: Hagar in the case of Sarah, Peninnah in the case of Hannah. Third, both Sarah and Hannah are portrayed as the “senior” wives in their respective marriages. Fourth, both barren women are treated contemptuously by their rivals (Genesis 16:4-5; 1 Samuel 1:6-7). Fifth, each of them—Sarah and Hannah—at last conceives a son through the fulfillment of a divine promise.

Some readers have developed the parallel even further, comparing Elkanah’s two wives, not only to the two wives of Abraham, but also to Leah and Rachel, the two wives of Jacob. In each of these three cases, the barren wife, who conceived later in life and by divine intervention, was contrasted with the more fruitful wife who was less loved.

Furthermore, Holy Scripture develops the correspondence between Sarah and Hannah in order to introduce two major narratives of covenant: the covenant with Abraham in Genesis, and the covenant with David in the Books of Samuel. In each story, the barren woman signifies weakness and imperfection—the human condition—to which God directs the grace of His covenant. The author of Samuel readily found this covenant pattern in Genesis.

Now, it was precisely in connection with the theme of covenant that the Apostle Paul elaborated his contrast between Hagar and Sarah, because “these women are two covenants.” Hagar, who conceived according to the flesh, is likened to the Old Covenant, while barren Sara, who gave birth “through promise,” symbolized the New (Galatians 4:21-31).

Some readers of Holy Scripture, taking Paul’s treatment of the two covenants in Galatians as an interpretive pattern, turned their attention on Hannah. They simply applied to her what Paul wrote of Sarah, and the Bible’s narrative parallels between the two women provided ample warrant for doing so.

Thus, many Christians have seen symbolized in Peninnah and Hannah—respectively—the Church and the synagogue. This pattern of imagery is found in Peter Chrysologus, Gregory the Dialoguist, Venerable Bede, Haymo of Halberstadt, Peter Comestor, and others.

All of these writers appear to be dependent on Ambrose, who spoke of Anna Sarrae consterilis—“Hannah sterile together with Sarah.” Summarizing this tradition, Isidore of Seville wrote, “Hannah, who was sterile and afterwards became fruitful, signifies the Church of Christ, who before was sterile among the nations, but now is richly powerful (largiter pollet) throughout the whole world by reason of her many offspring.”

Psalms 80 (Greek & Latin 79): The situation in this psalm is pretty rough: “Will You feed us with the bread of tears, and give us only tears as our measure of drink? You have made us a contradiction to our neighbors, and our enemies regard us with scorn.” The problem in this psalm is not private, so to speak; it has to do with afflictions brought upon the Church.

The remedy requested against this plight is the revelation of God’s glory, a theme that appears early in our psalm: “You who sit upon the Cherubim, reveal Yourself to Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh; stir up Your might and come to save us.” Then, three times comes the refrain that makes the same prayer: “Convert us; show forth Your face, and we shall be saved.” The order in this refrain is important, in that God shows His face only to the converted—“when one turns [or “is converted” to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (2 Cor. 3:16). So the psalm prays for a conversion, a change in our hearts, that we may behold the glory of God and thereby be saved.

Wednesday, June 3

1 Samuel 2: Some Christian readers have seen in the Canticle of Hannah (1 Samuel 2) the song of the Church. Thus, writes Gregory the Dialoguist, when Hannah sang, “My horn is exalted in the Lord,” “what is the horn of Hannah except the power of the Church?”

Since Hannah’s name was understood to mean “grace,” it is entirely proper to regard her as signifying “the Christian religion,” wrote Isidore of Seville.

When St. Paul cited the proclamation in Isaiah 54:1 in reference to Sarah—“Rejoice, O barren, / You who do not bear! / Break forth and shout, / You who are not in labor! / For the desolate has many more children / Than she who has a husband”—he provided the interpretive key to understanding all the instances of barren women in Holy Scripture. All of them signify the Church, but few of them so clearly as Hannah.

In the case of prayer, those serve best as our models who do not think of themselves as models. We are obliged to ferret them out, as it were, and force them—unwittingly—to disclose their secrets.

Such a one was Samuel’s mother, Hannah, whom many generations of Christians have taken as their model in the ways of prayer. According to Caesarius of Arles, for example, “our prayer must be such as we read of holy Hannah, the mother of Samuel,” and Gregory the Dialoguist inquired, “If that woman so wept who desired a son, how much should the soul weep who desires God?” Both Chrysostom and Bede compared Hannah’s prayer at Shiloh to that of the publican in the temple.

Rupert of Deutz, writing of Hannah’s perseverance in prayer, likened her to Mary of Bethany sitting at the feet of Christ. Haymo of Halberstadt spoke of her freedom from distraction in prayer. Going further, Paschasius Radbertus compared the prayer of Hannah to that of Jesus in the garden of agony.

Hannah’s patient endurance of the ridicule of Pennina caused several writers—including Chrysostom, Rhabanus Maurus, and Peter of Celles—to liken her to Job.

Hannah’s prayer, said Origen, was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Indeed, Gregory the Dialoguist and others compared her to the Apostles on the morning of Pentecost—in both cases their ecstasy in the Holy Spirit was mistaken for drunkenness!

Hannah prayed silently, wrote Clement of Alexandria, but God could read the thoughts of her heart. Didymus the Blind spoke of her “continuous meditation.”
Numerous writers drew attention to the similarities of Hannah’s canticle to that of the Mother of the Lord.

In the five sermons that he devoted to her, St. John Chrysostom repeatedly held up Hannah as the model of true philosophy—indeed, “the mother of philosophy”—and spoke of the patience and perseverance of her prayer. This woman, he proclaimed, is “our teacher in the ways of God.”

Thursday, June 4

John 18:12-27: If Simon Peter could deny Jesus, any one of us could do so. Simon, after all, had not believed himself capable of such a thing. “Even if all are made to stumble,” he boasted, “yet I will not be” (Mark 14:29). He was so utterly resolved on the matter that, when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus in the garden, Simon had attacked them with violence. Alas, he was neither the first man nor the last to confuse human excitement with divine strength, nor to mistake the pumping of adrenaline for the infusion of grace. Within a very short time after he swung his sword at the unsuspecting Malchus (cf. John 18:10), we find Peter backing down embarrassed before the pointing finger of a servant girl. The Holy Spirit took particular care that Christians throughout the ages would never forget that falling away remains a real possibility for any of them. In the words of yet another

1 Samuel 3: Samuel’s lifetime—mostly the second half of the eleventh century before Christ—-was an age of transitions, in two of which Samuel himself was directly involved. These were the destruction of the shrine at Shiloh in his youth, and Israel’s establishment of the monarchy during his declining years. In both cases Samuel, the last of Israel’s Judges, was obliged to be the bearer of bad news.

He was a mere boy when, shortly before 1050 BC, Samuel was taken to Shiloh, consecrated to God, and placed under the guidance of that shrine’s last priest, Eli (1 Samuel 1:24–28; 2:11,18–20). Shiloh had been a central shrine of Israel for about a century and a half, ever since Joshua fixed it as the meeting place of the twelve tribes (Joshua 18:1). It was from there that the tribal representatives went forth to survey the Promised Land, and back to Shiloh they returned to cast lots for the division of the land (18:8–10; 19:51).

During the ensuing period of Israel’s judges, 1200 to 1050, Shiloh remained a regular place of pilgrimage (Judges 21:19; 1 Samuel 1:3, 7). At some point during that period, the Ark of the Covenant, previously placed at Bethel (Judges 20:26–27), was moved to Shiloh. It was near the Ark, within the shrine, that the boy Samuel slept, at least sometimes (1 Samuel 3:3).

One such night, indeed, provided what is perhaps the best-known scene in Samuel’s life. Three times the sleeping lad, hearing his name called out in the night, rose and went to learn what Eli wanted of him.

Eli, however, had not called him. Finally, this aged priest, suspecting the truth, instructed Samuel, should he hear his name invoked again, to answer, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears” (3:3–9). Samuel, yet abiding near the Ark, did so, and the Lord did speak to him, giving the boy his first experience of prophecy. It concerned the coming destruction of Shiloh and the end of Eli’s priesthood (3:11–14). Samuel was obliged to bear the bad news (3:17–18).

Friday, June 5

1 Samuel 4: There are two parts to the present chapter: first, the loss of the Ark to the Philistines (verses 1-11); second, the death of Eli and the birth of Ichabod (verses 12-22).

After an initial defeat at the hands of their enemy (verses 1-2), the Israelite elders imagine that the Ark’s bare presence on the battlefield will assure the army of divine help in the next encounter (verse 3). Their reasoning on this point is doubtless inspired by the memory of the ark’s significant role in the Battle of Jericho.

However, those warriors commanded by Joshua at Jericho were assured of victory by the Lord Himself (Joshua 6:2-5), and they bore the Ark, not as a lucky charm or a magic talisman, but as an expression of their faith (6:6-8). In contrast, the elders in the present text forget that the Lord bases His judgments on the content of hearts. How can they imagine that the Lord does not regard the hearts of the two scoundrels who currently carry the Ark? Ironically, the Philistines seem to have more respect for the Ark than do the Israelites (verses 7-9). In the end, Israel’s losses in the second battle (verse 10) greatly outnumber those in the first.

The second scene of this chapter (verses 12-22) opens with the arrival of the messenger who runs 18 miles from the battlefield to the city of Shiloh, bringing tidings of the disaster (verse 12). Eli, apparently waiting at a gate different from the one entered by the messenger, becomes the last person to here the message. The scene grows in drama: blind Eli, hearing the uproar and lamentation in the city, demands to know the reason (verses 13-16). We learn much of the soul of the old man from the fact that he is anxious less for the safety of his sons than for the fate of the Ark. Hence, the full effect of the message seizes him only when he learns of the seizure of the Ark: Falling backward from a stool, he dies of a broken neck (verse 17-18).

The ironic climax of the tragedy arrives when the pregnant wife of Phineas suddenly goes into labor, in reaction to learning the loss of her husband and father-in-law, along with the defeat of the army and the capture of the Ark. She dies after giving birth to a boy, on whom she confers the symbolic name Ichabod, “glory gone.”

This name is based on the important Hebrew noun kavod, “glory.” This is the glory associated with God’s presence with the Ark. This child, then, born on the day of Ark’s capture, will be a living reminder of the Lord’s judgment on the priestly family of Shiloh. Although some prophets continued to dwell at Shiloh (cf. 1 Kings 14:2, 4), its priesthood settled at Nob (1 Samuel 14:3; 22:11).