May 21 – May 28, 2021

Friday, May 21

John 16:1-24: Once again our Lord speaks of the Holy Spirit as the Church’s Counselor, Parakletos, this time in the sense of “counsel for the defense.” This Counselor will “turn the tables” on the enemies of Christ, convicting the world of sin, of justice, and of judgment.

It has long been the custom for the Church, during the lengthy season 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.

Saturday, May 22

1 Corinthians 14.10-19: Tomorrow we shall be reading of the miraculous phenomenon of the diverse “tongues” in which the various nations of the human race, assembled in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost, hear the
Gospel proclaimed by the Apostles.

Today’s reading seems to be dealing with a different, if related, phenomenon. Far from understanding the Gospel, Paul says, these divers tongues may cause only confusion. It is clear that the Apostle prefers words that can be understood,/i> the mind. Between these two forms of speech, according to Paul, the ratio should favor intelligible words by a generous margin, something like 1 to 2000.

Psalms 55 (Greek & Latin 54): The title or inscription at the head of this psalm describes it with reference to the incident “when the Ziphites went and said to Saul, ‘Is David not hiding among us?’” For an understanding of the psalm the reader is thus sent to 1 Samuel 23:14–20, which tells of the treachery of the Ziphites in betraying David to Saul. That is to say, this is a psalm about the betrayal of the messianic King.

The assiduous reader of the Gospel, therefore, should have no great trouble recognizing the correct interpretive setting of this psalm, or discerning the “voice” that prays it. This is a psalm properly understood from within “the mind of Christ,” for it describes both His anguish at the betrayal that sent Him to suffering and death, and His full assurance of final vindication in the paschal glory. Jesus is the real messianic King.

Each of these aspects of the Lord’s Passion is narrated in the New Testament accounts. For example, the Lord’s three predictions of His coming sufferings, while dwelling in detail on certain specific aspects of the pain, all finish with a prophecy of His Resurrection (cf. Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33, 34). Likewise, Hebrews speaks both of the Lord’s distress and dereliction (“who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death”—5:7) and also of His assurance of final vindication (“who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame”—12:2).

Both these aspects of “the mind of Christ” in reference to the Passion are similarly present in our psalm. First, it speaks of how Jesus “endured such hostility from sinners against Himself” (Heb. 12:3): “For strangers are risen up against me, and the strong ones have sought my soul.” But then the voice of Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith” (12:2), proclaims His assurance of final vindication and victory: “For behold, God helps me, and the Lord is the receiver of my soul.”

The theme of final victory over His enemies (who, in the Gospels, are ultimately the demonic powers) forms the final note of this psalm. It is in the assurance of this victory that Jesus, entering into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to commence the definitive overthrow of Satan, prays to His Father: “Glorify Your name” (John 12:28). Our psalm expresses the generous spontaneity of His soul as He prepares to offer the one sacrifice that takes away the sins of the world: “Willingly will I offer sacrifice to You.” He prepares to lay down His life that He may take it up again (cf. John 10:17).

Pentecost Sunday, May 23

John 9.1-12: This story about the gift of sight pertains to a theme integral to the entire Gospel of John and the Bible as a whole. The first thing God created, according to Genesis, is “light.” God created light three days before he created the sun and the moon. That light is the inner truth of Creation, which is identical “good” of Creation. “And God saw the light that it was good.” This goodness and truth lie at the heart of everything God makes.

The original “vision” in Holy Scripture is God’s own vision of the world. Through man’s intellect God gives him the means of perceiving the same truth God beholds when He looks at the world. Heaven and earth, says Isaiah, are full of his glory. The Hebrew word for glory is kavod. This word has the same radicals as the word kaved, which means “weight.” “Glory” in Hebrew indicates a certain weightiness, a substantiality. One should think of the sheer weightiness of gold. We gain some sense of this in St. Paul’s expression, “eternal weight of glory.”

The intellect enlightened by God’s revelation and grace sees what is really there. His vision is enhanced by God’s own light. This vision of glory is not simply an aesthetic experience, and we attain it as Isaiah did—by entering humbly in the divine presence, our minds purged by the coal from the altar. Isaiah beholds the whole world transformed in glory because he sees the Lord high and lifted up. This vision is available only within the Temple—that is to say, the divine presence, which we approach in humility and prayer. We come into that presence when we enter into our hearts in prayer. We come into that presence when we open God’s Word in faith. We are enabled to see only if we obediently bath our eyes in the pool of Shiloam. This is a metaphor for the life of faith.

The goal of man’s creation is the eternal vision of God. Man’s real death is the abandonment of that vision. “Enlighten my eyes,” David prayed, “lest ever I sleep in death”

This gift of vision pertains only to human beings, because only human beings, in this world, have intellect. Various animals can be said to have “intelligence,” but only man has “intellect.”

Indeed, “intellect” is a potential and a summons God placed in the human soul in the very act of creating that soul. All things, according to John, are created through God’s Logos, and the vision to which the human being is summoned is the perception of that Logos within the content and structure of created existence. This is why rationality cannot be reduced to logic. The highest expression of rationality is vision.

Monday, May 24

Acts 2.22-35: 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—that is to say, the orthodox—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 Psalm 16 (Greek & Latin 15) was among the psalms 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 in today’s reading from Acts, Psalm 16 describes the Resurrection of Christ.

The Apostle himself then went on to explain that David, “being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, he would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the Resurrection of the Christ, that his soul was not left in the underworld, nor did his flesh see corruption” (Acts 2:25-31).

If we bear in mind that this was the first psalm quoted in the very first sermon of the Church, then, according to the history recorded in Acts, Psalm 16 was the Church’s first door into the Book of Psalms. According to the witness of Peter, the voice in this psalm, the person speaking, was the incarnate Son who prayed to his Father. It was through this psalm that the Church began to understand all the psalms as conversations between the biblical God and his Son. This, then, was the original doorway into both the Psalter and the mystery of the Incarnation.

Tuesday, May 25

Acts 2.36-47: Church history begins when men are smitten in heart at hearing the proclamation of Jesus as risen Lord and Messiah. The Gospel is directed to the heart and is intended to smite and stun the heart. Repentance and faith are a cardiac experience.

”Repent,” as Peter uses the verb here, is in the Greek aorist imperative. It does not signify, in this place, an ongoing activity, but a decision. The Greek word translates the Hebrew root shuv, which means to “return” or “change direction.” This is a common theme among the prophets.

Conversion means joining the Church in repentance. In the New Testament there is no such thing as a purely personal conversion. When God smites the heart, the person smitten asks, “What must I do?” The answer is invariably, “Go, take it up with the Church.” This is precisely what we see in the conversion of Paul.

This is not some sort of invisible entity. Church, in the New Testament, is always an “organized religion,” and on joins it through the rite of baptism.

Leviticus 1: Because the English noun “sacrifice” is commonly employed to translate several quite different Hebrew words, readers of the Bible in English may not suspect how varied and complex is the Bible’s treatment of this subject.

For instance, the sacrifice treated here in the first chapter is quite distinct. One would not suspect just how distinct from its common English translation (King James, for example), “burnt sacrifice.” Since just about all sacrifices in the Bible, with the obvious exception of libations, were burnt, the expression does not tell us very much.

The Hebrew word employed for the sacrifices in this chapter is ‘olah, a participle meaning “ascending.” This term may originally have been connected with the ascending smoke released by the fire that consumed the victim. In the ancient Greek translation (the Septuagint), this term was rendered holokavtoma, which indicated that the whole victim, not just part of it, was consumed in the fire. This Greek word became the Latin holocaustum, whence is derived our English “holocaust.” Because it consumed the entire victim, the holocaust—the sacrifice envisaged in this opening chapter of Leviticus—was the most complete form of sacrifice.

The six steps involved in such a sacrifice are described in verses 3-9, which treat of a bovine sacrifice. Nearly identical steps were followed for the holocaust of sheep (verses 1-13) and birds (verses 14-17).

It is clear that a holocaust always involves the sacrifice of a living animal, not grain or any other form. Those other sacrifices are treated in the next chapter.

Wednesday, May 26

Psalms 68 (Greek and Latin 67): In the Epistle to the Ephesians, written relatively late in his ministry, the Apostle Paul put a particular emphasis on the Lord’s Ascension—as the defeat of the hostile powers on high. As Christ conquered sin by his death, and defeated death by his Resurrection, so by his Ascension he was victorious over the inimical powers of the cosmos, the “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

When Christ ascended on high, Paul wrote, God “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all principality and authority, power and dominion” (1:20-21; cf. 3:10). Christ’s Ascension, then, was a victory parade up to his enthronement, and the forces of evil were led as captives in his train.

Paul took this image from Psalm 68, which he cited in reference to the Ascension: “When he ascended on high, / he led captivity captive, / and gave gifts to men” (Ephesians 4:9; Psalms 68:18). In fulfillment of the prophetic voice in that psalm, wrote the Apostle, Christ “ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things” (Ephesians 4:10).

Those familiar with Psalm 68 recognize that Paul dramatically changed its wording. The Hebrew text of the cited line (substantially identical in the Greek) says, “You have ascended on high, / You have led captivity captive; / You have received gifts among men.” This change of grammatical voice—from second to third person—in Paul’s citation is easy to explain: He had in mind to talk about Christ rather than address him.

More striking, however, is Paul’s radical alteration of the final clause: Instead of “receiving” gifts from men, the ascending Christ is said to “give” gifts to men. Paul goes on, indeed, to list those gifts: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers—all for “equipping of the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:11).

Since Paul was obliged to change the wording of the psalm in order to make his point about the ministry, it is reasonable to inquire why he bothered to cite it. This is to be explained, I believe, by the psalm’s full content; Paul drew his inspiration, not just from that one verse, but also from the whole of Psalm 68.

I am partial to the view that Psalm 68 originally served as a processional chant in the inauguration of either the Davidic sanctuary or Solomon’s Temple, when the Ark of the Covenant was borne to its designated resting place in the Holy of Holies.

The psalm pictures this procession as having started long ago in Egypt and at Mount Sinai; it began “when You were the vanguard to Your people, / as You marched through the wilderness.” Each time Israel broke camp in the desert and the Levites once again shouldered the long handles of the Ark, Moses shouted, “Arise, O Lord! / Let Your enemies be scattered, / and may those who hate You flee before You” (Numbers 10:35). By adopting Moses’ acclamation as the opening line of Psalm 68, the psalmist made the procession in Jerusalem an extension of the Exodus march.

Thursday, May 27

Psalms 69 (Greek & Latin 68): This psalm is the prayer of him “who, in the days of His flesh . . . offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death” (Heb. 5:7). The Christian Church has ever been persuaded that Psalm 69 expresses the sentiments of that soul “exceedingly sorrowful, even to death” (Matt. 26:38). Here, we are given a vision into the very heart of Christ in the circumstances of His Passion: “Deliver me from those that hate me, and from the depths of the waters. Let not the flood of water submerge me, nor the depth swallow me down, nor the mouth of the pit close over me.”

This is the Christ who in dereliction sought in vain the human companionship of His closest friends during the vigil prior to His arrest: “What? Could you not watch with Me one hour?” (Matt. 26:40). Psalm 69 speaks of this disappointment as well: “My heart waited for contempt and misery; I hoped for someone to share my sorrow, but there was no one; someone to console me, but I found none.”

According to all four Gospels, the dying Christ was offered some sort of bitter beverage, oxsos, a sour wine or vinegar, as He hung on the Cross. This is the very word used at the end of the following verse of Psalm 69: “And for my food they laid out gall, and for my drink they gave me vinegar.”

But there is another dimension to the Passion of the Lord—the resolve of his victory. Even as He was being arrested, his enemies were unable to stand upright in His presence (cf. John 18:6). This was the Christ, “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2). No man takes the Lord’s life from Him, for He has power to lay it down and to take it up again (cf. John 10:18). This is the Christ whom death could not hold, who descended a very conqueror into hell to loose the bonds of them that sat in darkness, and who “went and preached to the spirits in prison” (1 Pet. 3:19).

Leviticus 3: What most English translations of the Bible call the “peace offering” is, in the Hebrew text, known as the zebah shelamim, a term indicating an oblation which harmonizes or makes perfect. It is an offering in which there is some sort of communion through the shared eating of part of the victim. Hence, unlike the holocaust, the entire victim in this kind of sacrifice is not destroyed by fire; parts of it are eaten by the priests who offer it and by those individuals for whom it is offered.

The sacrificial victims offered in this sort of oblation were the ox, the sheep, and the goat; animals of both sexes were acceptable. The sacrifice of the ox is described in verses 1-5, in which special attention is given to the animal’s blood. Because blood especially symbolizes life, it could not be ingested. It had to be sprinkled on the altar, as a sign that all life belongs to God. Similarly, those internal organs more especially associated with the processes of life, such as the intestines, the liver, and the kidneys, were burned in the sacrificial fire. Much the same procedure was followed for the offering of the sheep (verses 6-11) and the goat (verses 12-17).

For reasons that are not clear, the fat of these sacrifices could not be eaten, though there are no proscriptions against eating fat outside of the sacrificial context.

Friday, May 28

Leviticus 4: The Hebrew name for the sacrifice in this chapter, the “sin offering,” is ’attata’t; this noun literally means “sin,” but the meaning is extended to include the consequences of sin and, hence, the sacrifice offered to expiate sin (this noun, in the priestly code, always meaning offenses against God), and thus signifying even the victim offered in that sacrifice.
Here in Leviticus the normal meaning of ’attata’t is “sin offering.” It always involves the shedding of blood, because “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9.22).

With the term understood in this specific way and special sense, we can see that when the Apostle Paul said that God made Jesus “sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21), he meant that Jesus became the victim of that expiatory sacrifice by which atonement was made for our sins. Here in Leviticus the verb used to “make” this sin offering is ‘asah (three times in verses 8-9), which is a normal verb connoting the performance of many sacrifices. This verb is also used throughout Genesis 1, with respect to Creation.

In the Greek text, the Septuagint, of Leviticus 4. this ‘asah is translated as poiein. This is the verb used by St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21, where he says that God “made [Jesus] a sin offering” (hamartian epoiesen).

It should be further noted that these particular sacrifices, although expiatory, are not substitutionary (in contrast to the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb, which was substitutionary but not expiatory).

The Bible invariably distinguishes between substitutionary and expiatory sacrifices. It is a fact that the Old Testament system of sacrifice prescribed no substitutionary mactation of a sacrificial victim to atone for a sin that deserved death. That is to say, in the sacrificial system of the Bible, no animal is ever sacrificed to atone for the sin of someone who, because of that sin, deserved to die.

With respect to the death of Jesus on the Cross, we say that He died to atone our sins. In this regard His death was an expiatory sacrifice. When we speak of His death, however, as a substitutionary sacrifice, we indicate that He acted as the true Paschal Lamb, of which those earlier lambs were but symbols and types. Thus, the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross was both expiatory and substitutionary; He fulfilled both of these sacrificial types, each in a way proper to itself.

The death of this “Lamb of God” did what the substitutionary sacrifice of the ancient Paschal lambs was never intended to do — namely, take away the sins of the world.

Thus, Jesus fulfilled all of these ancient sacrifices of the Old Testament: the ‘olah, or holocaust (Chapter 1), by being a complete sacrifice; the minhah, or grain sacrifice (Chapter 2), by granting us, in the breaking of the Bread, to “proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26); the zebah shelamim, or “peace offering” (Chapter 3), by sharing with us his own communion with God; and the ’attata’t, or sin offering (the present chapter), by taking away the barrier that human sins created between God and the human race.

The sprinkling (hizzah) of the blood purifies the curtain (paroketh) that covers the Holy of Holies (verses 6,17). This verb, (hizzah), is also used in Isaiah 52:15 with reference to the Suffering Servant: “So shall He sprinkle many nations,” meaning that the blood of the Servant cleanses the sins of the nations. The imagery of this ritual provides the structure for the entire argument in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Jesus, with his own blood, purifies the heavenly sanctuary.