November 6 – November 13, 2020

Friday, November 6

Isaiah 11: The original setting of this chapter was the same prolonged crisis that prompted Isaiah to speak earlier of the “stump” (6:13) and to describe the destruction of a mighty forest (10:33-34). The house of David had been reduced to a “stump” during the invasions of the Syro-Ephraemitic League and the Assyrians. If the Davidic throne seemed but a stump in the eighth century, this was even more the case two centuries later, when the Book of Isaiah received its final editing. By that time the house of David had been definitively removed from the throne of Judah, never again to be restored in recorded history. These later biblical editors (Ezra, perhaps) were keenly aware of the messianic tension in Isaiah, the tension between the prophesied downfall of the Davidic house (7:17) and the prophesied glory of its restoration (1:25-27). This tension produced chapter 9 and the two poems contained in the present chapter.

These two poems (verses 1-9 and 12-16) are joined by two verses of prose (verses 10-11) that summarize the first and serve as a preamble to the second. The two poems are complementary, both of them dealing with the eschatological characteristics of the divine, messianic reign. The theme of wisdom and knowledge in the first poem (verse 2) finds its parallel in the “knowledge of the Lord” in the second (verse 9).

The future tense of both poems is strengthened by the double “in that day” (bayyom hahu’–verses 10-11) of the prose section. This expression points to the future day of history, when God acts to define the destiny of the world. It will be the renewal of Israel’s ancient deliverance from Egypt (verses 11,16).

The short prose section (verse 10) also takes up “Jesse,” “root,” and “rest” from the first poem (verses 1-2), and introduces “remnant,” “hand,” “sea,” “Assyria,” and “Egypt” (verse 11), which will appear again in the second poem (verses 15-16).

Thus, the entire chapter anticipates a renewed world, in which all peoples will live at peace, both among themselves and with the rest of creation, under the Lord’s anointed King.

This latter, the Messiah, is identified as both the “shoot” (verse 1) and the “root” (verse 10) of Jesse. That is to say, He is both the descendent of David, Jesse’s son, and also the determining source, causa finalis, from which that royal line is derived. He is both David’s Son, in short, and his Lord (Psalm 109 [110]:1; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 1:32; cf. Hosea 3:5; Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23-24). The Messiah is born of David’s line, but He is the root of that line. This Old Testament truth comes to light solely in the New Testament.

The Messiah is endowed with the Holy Spirit (verse 2; cf. 42:1; 52:21; 61:1). The description of the Spirit in this verse resembles the Menorah, with a central core (“the Spirit of the Lord”) and three pairs of extended arms: wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, the knowledge and fear of the Lord.

The idyllic setting of peace among the animals (verses 6-8) recalls not only Eden prior to the Fall (Genesis 1:29-30), but also the conditions on Noah’s Ark, another of the great images of salvation.

The little child that presides over this universal peace (verses 6,8) is, of course, the newborn Messiah, the same One recognized by the ass and the ox (1:3).
Although the original context for the present message of encouragement was apparently the dark season of the Assyrian invasions, the hope contained in this text extends into the future. It is a prophecy that has in view the coming history of the people of God. This messianic reign is not solely for the Jews, because the nations (goyim will also seek the root of Jesse (verse 10; cf. verse 12; 2:2-4; 9:1-7).

Saturday, November 7

Luke 18:1-8: The two parables that begin this chapter (the persistent widow and the Publican in the Temple) illustrates the principle and practice of constant prayer. We observe that Jesus does not actually say that we ““should pray always and never lose heart”; these are words provided by Luke, which give serve to interpret the parable of the widow. In fact, the exhortation to “pray always” appears in Paul’s letters at each period of his ministry (Roman 12:12; Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). The present text is one of several places where Luke sees the teaching of Jesus through the eyes of St. Paul.

The teaching on prayer in Luke 18 pointedly resembles that in chapter 11, especially its accent on indefatigability and persistence. In addition to the two properly Lukan parables of the Widow and the Pharisee, there is also the story of the blind man of Jericho.
Each is a case of sustained, relentless and repeated petition. The characters in each of these accounts pray without ceasing by making the same request over and over again. (This emphasis on repetition in prayer is somewhat clearer in the original, which uses the Greek imperfect tense, denoting repeated action, in each instance (verses 3, 13, 39). In the teaching of Luke 18, then, as in chapter 11, constant, uninterrupted prayer means ceaselessly repeated prayer.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18: We recall that Paul was obliged to found the church in Thessaloniki in just three weeks (cf. Acts 17:2); there was scarcely time to teach the new converts everything they needed to know about the life in Christ!

Among the subjects Paul was forced to skip was the theology death, judgment, and the second coming of the Lord (which is why we are reading this epistle toward the end of the liturgical year). Paul must do so now.

The new believers at Thessaloniki, it seems, were so convinced of the imminence of the Lord’s return that they grieved because some of their loved ones had recently died and, feared they, would not be around for the Lord’s return! Paul would not have them “ignorant” on this subject. So he writes here to instruct them further concerning the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead.

We observe that, for Paul, eternal life consists in being “ever with the Lord.”

Sunday, November 8

Luke 18:0-17: This parable indicates that we pray from a sense of need. The Pharisee in the story didn’t need anything. He had it all. He was not like other men, and he thanked God for that fact. He practiced tithing. He kept the fast days. He needed nothing, and he asked for nothing.

This Pharisee was practicing self-deception. His prayer lacked one of the most essential components of prayer, which is vigilance over one’s soul.

Repeated prayer for the divine mercy is, above all, an affirmation of Christ’s redemptive Lordship as the defining revelation of God in history: “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of the living God.” It is a proclamation of faith in the form of a direct address to the Savior of the world. Since only in the Holy Spirit can we proclaim that Jesus is Lord, it is a prayer permeated with the divinizing energies of that Holy Spirit.

The Publican, on the other hand, prayed entirely out a sense of need and desperation. He asked only for one thing, the one thing necessary: God’s mercy.
According to the story, this Publican, as he prayed, beat his breast. That is to say, he attempted to break his heart, because a broken and contrite heart God will not despise. Furthermore, it is a confession of sinfulness, crafted to place a broken and contrite heart continuously in the presence of the living Christ and under the bounteous mercy of his blood.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11: In this passage Paul deals with, among other subjects, the theme of vigilance. This was not a theme peculiar to Paul, but part of the common catechetical inheritance of the Church, going back to Jesus Himself (Mark 13:33-37). Being common, it is found in other New Testament writers as well (1 Peter 5:8; Revelation 3:2-3). When Paul speaks on this subject, therefore, he is saying something Christians generally expected him to say (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:13; Colossians 3:2).

The life in Christ includes a vigilant, heightened consciousness, a stimulated awareness, a certain kind of mindfulness, clear and sharp thinking, and intelligent questioning. This vigilance will have some trouble with the general sense of stupor common in contemporary culture, where piped-in music prevents a person from hearing his own thoughts, and great efforts are made in the advertising world to prevent us from seeing the complications of things. Every single project—from the offering of new deodorant on the market to the construction of a new bridge or road—involves an underlying philosophy and a set of metaphysical presuppositions. The alert mind will search out these things, for the simple reason that its adversary, the devil, goes about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

Monday, November 9

Luke 18:18-30: This account, which Luke shares with the other Synoptics (Matthew 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-22), is often referenced as the story of “the rich young man.” In fact, however, only Matthew says that the fellow was “young” (neaniskos–Matthew 19:22). Bearing in mind that references to youth are always relative (I now find myself using that reference to men in their thirties, for instance), it would be pointless to think of this as an inconsistency among the Evangelists.

The emphasis is different in Mark and Luke, however; indeed, these two quote the fellow to the effect that he had kept all the commandments “since youth” (ek neotetos), which may suggest that the man in question thought of himself as somewhat older. Luke, moreover, specifies that the man had been around long enough to have become a “leader” (archon–verse 18).

This difference among the witnesses is perhaps significant in one respect—namely, whatever his age, the wealthy person was certainly immature in mind. Otherwise, how explain his inability to assess the value of “eternal life” (zoe aionios–verse 17) in comparison with his current wealth? It was surely a sign of immaturity that he counted his present possessions (verse 23) more valuable than a “treasure in heaven” (verse 22).

More alarming to the average reader, perhaps, is the story’s message that a man can observe all the commandments (verse 21) and still come up short (eti hen soi leipei–verse 22) with respect to eternal life. One recalls, in this respect, the parable of the rich man in 16:19-31. In that case too, the rich man lost eternal life by living solely for the sake of this life. In both instances, as well, an insouciance about the higher value of heaven was accompanied by a lack of concern for the poor.

What, after all, did the man really lose? Or, to put the question in another way, what alone constitutes what is desirable—what alone is good? The present story contains the answer to this question as well: “No one is good but God alone” (verse 19 RSV). This is what the “leader” has lost—God, the sole source of eternal happiness. No wonder that his sorrow sets in immediately.

In all the Synoptic Gospels the story of the wealthy man, who declines the summons of Jesus, introduces a dominical discourse on the spiritual danger of wealth and the reward attending those that relinquish all things for the sake of Christ.

Although some manuscripts and versions (including the Latin) say that this discourse came in response to the sadness of the departing man (“Jesus saw that he was sorrowful”—verse 24), the older, more reliable texts (Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, et al) omit this detail. Nonetheless, all the textual witnesses testify that this discourse was given on this specific occasion (“Seeing him, Jesus said . . .”–Idon de avton ho Iesus eipen).

The two passages are also linked by a concern for “eternal life” (verses 18,30). In context this eternal life is identified with the Kingdom of God (verses 24,25,29; cf. 16:17).

The rich man’s loss came from an inability to give up his wealth and trust solely in God, the only Good (verse 19). That is to say, it was a failure in faith. Wealth, after all, means more than finances. It means human achievement as a whole, including intellectual, cultural, and even moral achievement (“All this I have done from my youth”). The rich man found himself unable to make this step, the step of faith in God, the only step by which a man “enters” (verses 17,24,25) into the Kingdom and “receives” (verse 30) eternal life. This is not a human achievement. Only God, the one Good, makes it possible (verse 27). Salvation—being ‘saved”—is beyond the ability of man. Thus, the Lord’s summons to self-abnegation is an invitation to faith.

Tuesday, November 10

Luke 18:31-34: The foregoing discourse on wealth and self-abnegation described the latter as following Jesus (verse 28). The present section, which is the Lord’s third prediction of His sufferings and death, expounds on the true meaning of this following.

Unlike Luke’s two earlier prophecies of the Passion (9:22,44), and unlike Matthew (20:17-19) and Mark (10:32-34) in the present instance, this announcement of the Lord’s sufferings and death is portrayed as the fulfillment of the prophetic Scriptures: “all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished” (verse 31). Luke thus prepares the reader, prior to the Passion narrative itself, for the theme of the Lord’s post-Resurrection appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: “‘Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?’ And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (24:25). This is Luke’s way of enclosing the Passion story together within the theme of biblical prophecy.

This theme of Scriptural fulfillment serves both an apologetic and a theological interest. First, it answers the objections of the Jews, for whom the Cross was a “stumbling block” (1 Corinthians 1:23), and, second, it binds together the entire biblical narrative as a single history of salvation.

Luke finishes the present story with an observation about the Apostles which is missing in Matthew and Mark: “But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken” (verse 34). This observation too will be taken up in the Lord’s words to the disciples on the road to Emmaus: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!” (24:25) This detail is added by Luke to indicate that even the faithful friends of Jesus wee slow and reluctant to perceive the necessity of the Cross. This is why they resisted the message of the Scriptures.

By way of contrast, Luke later introduces the Ethiopian eunuch. This latter, struggling understand biblical prophecy (Acts 8:30-34), responds with alacrity when Philip elucidates such texts by recourse to the story of the Passion (8:35-37).

2 Thessalonians 1:1-12: Paul’s reasoning seems to run along these lines: Since the eternal life awaiting believers consists in being with the Lord (1 Thess 4:17), eternal punishment must be the deprivation of that gift. Any other punishment must be secondary and of less importance.

The reason that Paul gives for the expulsion of the unjust from the Lord’s presence is that they do not know God (verse 8). Since such ignorance of God is proper to those who are lost, it cannot be just any kind of ignorance. After all, a great deal of human ignorance is faultless ignorance, ignorance for which no one is responsible or worthy of blame. Surely anyone that is eternally lost, however, is lost by his own fault. The person so lost has only himself to blame.

Consequently, the ignorance of God, concerning which Paul speaks here, must be, not only culpable ignorance, but seriously culpable ignorance. To be separated from God is an ultimate state; it can only be brought about by an ultimate decision. The damning ignorance of God, then must ignorance deliberately chosen, an ignorance in which the person deliberately prefers not to know. It is an ultimate decision not to know God, an ignorance identical with hardness of heart.

Wednesday, November 11

Luke 18:35-43: Jesus comes to Jericho for the last time. Only Luke tells of two incidents that took place during this visit: the healing of the blind beggar and the encounter with Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree. We may consider three components in this story of the blind man: the road, the journey, and the encounter.

The blind man pleads for mercy, and when the Lord asks him to be a bit more specific, the beggar answers that he wants to be able to see.

At first the Lord’s question—“What do you want me to do for you?”—may seem impertinent. After all, Jesus knows that the man is blind, so why would He ask such a thing?

But this problem attends all our prayers. The Lord always knows our condition before we ask Him. He is already well aware of our needs. He does not require an update on our problems. The purpose of prayer, however, is not to provide God with information. The purpose of supplication is to confess our needs; it is to speak with God as needy people

Jesus’ question to the blind man, therefore, was not a request for information. It was an endeavor to make the man a true suppliant. It was to elicit a prayer, in which the man could place his faith in Jesus.

This blind man, in the confession of his need, may be contrasted with many people in this enlightened age, which is peopled so many individuals and groups that are utterly blind but have no notion of. They are forever bumping into harmful things that they are unable, by reason of their blindness, to recognize.

This blind man, Luke tells us, when he received his sight, immediately followed Jesus, and the journey continued along the road, going toward the Cross, the blind man now part of the procession toward the Cross that will be erected about 17 miles to the south.

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).

Thursday, November 12

Luke 19:1-10: This is our second story about someone who was unable to see Jesus. The blind man could not see Jesus for the simple reason that he was blind! In this respect Zacchaeus is like the blind man; he couldn’t see Jesus either. Zacchaeus could not see Jesus, because he was too short, and Jesus was surrounded by a large crowd. In neither of the two cases were the men able to see Jesus.

We observe that both men made themselves conspicuous. In the case of the blind man, he took to shouting out a prayer to Jesus for mercy. He made himself so conspicuous that the crowd attempted to silence him. One imagines that because the blind man could not see Jesus, he feared that maybe Jesus would not see him. He obliges Jesus to stop, as it were, and attend to him. He was bold in his prayer.

In the case of Zacchaeus, on the other hand, he could actually do something about his inability to see Jesus: He could climb a tall tree in order to get a better view, and this is exactly what he did. Putting aside all sense of self-respect, he managed to get himself up that tree and look over the heads in the crowd.

In both cases, these men put aside all sense of shame and embarrassment. They wanted to see Jesus, and they did whatever was necessary. They did not care what anyone thought of them. Zacchaeus thought a great deal less of his own dignity than he did about seeing Jesus. He was prepared to sacrifice his pride, his reputation, and his self-respect in order to look at Jesus. So in lowliness of heart he climbed the sycamore tree, ironically attaining the exaltation promised to those who humble themselves. He did what only the humble can do. He gazed upon Jesus. That is why he shared in the grace given to the blind man. They both received the gift that only Jesus can give.

In the case of the blind man, the practical initiative seems to be from the side of the blind man. He is the one who forces Jesus to stop. He is the one that cries out for mercy.

The story of Zacchaeus is quite different in this respect. Here we see Jesus taking the initiative. It is now Jesus that stops the movement along the road by calling Zacchaeus to himself and calling him by name. This detail tells us a great deal. It tells us that Zacchaeus is one of the Lord’s own sheep, because the Good Shepherd calls each of His own by name,

Obviously the Lord did not look for much. Zacchaeus still had a long way to go; he was far from perfect. Indeed, he was perhaps a bit of a stuffed shirt and braggadocio. Truly, there is something embarrassing about his boast: “I give half my goods to the poor!” Apparently he had not yet learned that those who follow Jesus are called to give up everything, not just half. No matter. Zacchaeus was halfway along the way of the Cross, and our Lord accepted him as he was. He already demonstrated that he had taken his first steps on the path of humility, and that was sufficient. A man does not have to be perfect before Jesus calls him by name.

Friday, November 13

Luke 19:11-27: This parable, partly matched in Matthew 25:14-27, is more complex than its counterpart and more allegorical. It contains not only the theme of divine stewardship but also that of obtaining a kingdom.

The central figure in this parable in Luke is a man who makes a distant trip to procure a royal title. In its theological sense the story symbolizes the departure of Christ to heaven, whence He will someday return with this kingly title to assess the stewardship of His servants on earth. That is to say, “He will come again in glory to judge.”

Among the other allegorical elements in the account we note the future king’s rejection by his own people, along with his eventual rejection and punishment of them.

Many readers of this parable have observed that its details are strangely parallel to things that actually transpired in the career of Archelaus, the son of Herod the Great. At the death of the latter in 4 B.C., Archelaus journeyed to Rome to plead for the title and authority of his father from Caesar Augustus. A delegation of Jews also went to Rome for the purpose of making the opposite request (Josephus, Antiquities 17.11.1. §299-302).

It is difficult to assess the value of these interesting parallels. One is at least justified in pointing out, nonetheless, that whereas in the Lukan parable the man’s enemies fail to prevent his obtaining the kingdom, in the case of Archelaus the enemies were somewhat more successful. In this latter case Rome declined to give Archelaus the title of king. He was given authority as “tetrarch” (“one-quarter-king”) over Judea and Samaria (cf. Matthew 2:22), from which position he was deposed ten years later.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-18: Verse 11 has a play on words impossible to translate literally without losing the force of the expression: meden ergazomenous alla periergazomenous, which may be paraphrased, “not working but working around,” or “not busy but busybodies.”

This letter was written partly in reply to those who took the “last times” so seriously as to affect their duties and responsibilities in this world, with the result that they lived off the generosity of other Christians. Paul very seriously insisted that such people should not be helped: “If someone is unwilling (ou thelei) to work, neither let him eat.”

This seems harsh. Jesus has said nothing like this in the Sermon on the Mount or in His Last Judgment parable in Matthew 25. Paul, however, is not teaching an ideal of charity here; he is very practically trying to come to grips with a very practical problem. The resources of the Christian community are always going to be limited. Every effort must be made to assist the poor and helpless, but there is no room in the Church for drones and loafers.

With respect to loafers and drones in the Church, Paul criticizes more than their laziness. Worse, they spend badly the time that they have on their hands as a result of their inactivity. Later on he was obliged to deal with this problem of inactivity among the widows at Ephesus, those ladies who used their retirement to no good purpose, spending their time in idle curiosities and rumormongering (1Timothy 5:13). Paul, the heir of rabbinic wisdom on this point, believed that a proper and useful occupation of one’s mind, energy, and time was good for the soul as well as the pocketbook.