December 8 – December 16, 2023

Friday, December 8

Click here for the book of Susanna.

Revelation 17:1-6: John’s vision of the woman on the scarlet beast is better understood if one bears in mind certain features of his cultural and religious memory:

First, Israel’s prophetic tradition had fought against ritual prostitution, one of the standard religious practices of Canaanite religion, which Israel’s prophets for centuries struggled to replace. This tradition frequently spoke of idolatry under the metaphor of fornication, a metaphor further suggested by the prophetic perception of Israel as bound to God by a spiritual marriage. This perception is well documented in two prophets of the eighth century, Hosea and Isaiah.

Second, a century earlier Elijah had opposed the immoral cult of Baal, which was sponsored by the Phoenician princess Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab. For this reason, Jezebel came to personify, in Israel’s memory, the witch, the wicked woman of loose morals. As in the instance of Naboth’s vineyard, as well as the death of many prophets, she was also remembered as a woman responsible for the shedding of innocent blood; Elijah complained that she had put a price on his own head. All of this has been on John’s mind; he has already described a certain woman at Thyatira as a Jezebel (2:20-23). The memory of Jezebel is certainly part of the picture of John’s image of the woman on the scarlet beast.

Third, Israel’s wisdom tradition, especially as found in the Book of Proverbs, spoke of Wisdom as a man’s true bride, in intimacy with whom he was to spend his whole life. Opposed to this bridal wisdom was the “loose woman,” Dame Folly, personified in the prostitute. This opposition undoubtedly arose from the simple observation that a good marriage to the right woman teaches a man, if he is teachable, how to conduct his life well and wisely, whereas that same man is brought to ruin if he consorts with a meretricious woman. The whore, then, was as bad a figure in Israel’s wisdom literature as she is in the prophetic literature.

Fourth, John seems also influenced by certain infamous and profligate women in the more recent history with which he was familiar. In the previous century, for example, there had been the famous femme fatale, Cleopatra, while in his own lifetime John knew of Herodias, whose success in murdering John the Baptist surpassed even Jezebel’s efforts against Elijah.

Even more recent to John’s time there was Berenice, the daughter born to Herod the Great in A.D. 28. If any woman of John’s era could be seen as a whore of international fame, it was Berenice, of whose activities we know chiefly from the historian Josephus. By the year 48 she had been widowed twice, once from her own brother, to whom she bore two children. For several years she lived in incest with another brother, Agrippa II, in whose company we find her at the trial of St. Paul in Acts 25:13,22-23; 26:30.

Shortly after this, Berenice was married to King Polemo of Cilicia, but she did not stay long with him. During this period of her life she was mocked by the poet Juvenal. Later on, according to Tacitus and Suetonius, she was the mistress of Titus, who was obliged to abandon her in order to become emperor, Dio Cassius tells us. When John described a “loose woman,” in short, none of his readers were at a loss to know what sort of woman he had in mind.

Fifth, the woman in this vision is certainly the personification of the city of Rome, sitting on her seven hills. John did not have to personify Rome; it was already done by Rome’s political endorsement of the goddess “Roma,” in whose honor John knew of temples at Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamos. In the east, Roma had also been assimilated with certain local and traditional fertility goddesses.

The woman here is not only a whore; she is also a drinker of innocent blood, in the tradition of Jezebel and Herodias, the latter remembered especially in the Asian churches as the one responsible for the death of their beloved John the Baptist. Clothed in scarlet and adorned with gold, she appears as a sort of queen, whom John calls Babylon, much in the style of Jeremiah 51:12-17, a text that must be read in connection with John’s vision.

Saturday, December 9

Matthew 5.33-37: In this third contrast between Gospel righteousness and that of the scribe and Pharisee, the subject is the taking of oaths. Whereas the Mosaic Law prohibits perjury—an imprecation in testimony to a lie (Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:11)—Gospel righteousness forbids oaths in testimony to the truth.

The examples given in these verses, particularly that related to one’s own head (verse 36), contain some measure of disguise or subterfuge, to avoid using God’s name explicitly (“heaven,” “earth,” “Jerusalem”—verse 34; cf. 23:16-22). This suggests an “unofficial” context for the prohibition. In solemn and more formal settings, after all, such as a courtroom, there would be no such disguising of the references to God’s holy name.

In fact, this is how the ethical tradition of the Church has interpreted the prohibition of oaths—that is, as pertaining to ordinary conversation, not a more solemn setting in which an oath is reasonable and expected. Thus, we observe the Apostle Paul’s complete lack of scruple in this matter (cf. Romans 1:9; 2 Corinthians 1:23; Philippians 1:8; 1 Thessalonians 2:5). The Church has followed suit, not understanding this prohibition in the same strict sense as the prohibition against divorce.

The point of the prohibition is to avoid frivolous, unnecessary, and irreverent appeals to God, no matter how such appeals may be disguised. Invocations of this sort encroach on the realm of the divine, and the biblical Lord would be treated with the same nonchalance that pagans felt toward the Homeric gods. Oaths of this kind are irreverent to the divine presence, much like the uncovered head of a woman in prayer. Such oaths—frivolous invocations to the divine truth as guarantor of human claims—demean the divine majesty by forcing God to participate in a merely human conversation. Gospel righteousness recognizes the insult implied in such behavior and such an attitude.

The Lord’s prohibition of oaths extends and perfects the Mosaic proscription against taking the Lord’s name “in vain” (that is, on behalf of a false assertion) and strengthens the Old Testament’s care to reverence the holiness of God’s name (Leviticus 19:12). In this sense Jesus’ prohibition goes to the root of the divine intention in the Torah, much as His prohibition of divorce and adulterous thoughts more profoundly asserts what the Old Testament says of the sanctity of marriage.

In addition, the Lord’s injunction here forces the believer to assume full responsibility for the “truth content” of what he says (verse 37; cf. James 5:12; 1 Corinthians 1:19). He cannot evade this moral responsibility by a casual invocation of the supernatural. Such invocations, says Jesus, are far from harmless; they come “from the Evil One” (ek tou Ponerou), from whom we pray to be delivered (apo tou Ponerou–6:13).

Finally, let us note that the Lord Himself declined the high priest’s adjuration to swear to His own divinity (26:63, in Matthew only).

Sunday, December 10

Matthew 5:38-42: Revenge and resistance form the theme of the fourth contrast between Gospel righteousness and that of the scribes and Pharisees. Some of this material is shared with Luke 6:29-30.

In the Old Testament, strict limits on revenge, based on a kind of qualitative equity (quid pro quo), caused it to assume a form resembling commutative justice (verse 38). This Mosaic arrangement placed on Israelite society a measurable restraint that could be enforced. It could rather easily be assimilated into a system of justice and appropriate retribution.

Gospel righteousness, however, is not satisfied with creating a society governed by commutative justice. It wants to eliminate from the heart all forms of revenge or coercive resistance to an evildoer (verse 39).

A blow on the right cheek, presumably struck by a right-handed man, must be delivered backhand. To hit a man in this way is chiefly a gesture of insult. The one who suffers such a blow may not experience much physical injury, but the loss of personal dignity can be immense. It is this loss of personal dignity and respect that the believer must be prepared to sustain.

Whereas in Luke (6:29) plain robbery is envisaged in the seizure of garments, in Matthew it is set in a forensic context (verse 40). Matthew also places the demand of a mile’s walk into a legal setting—an official compulsion (aggarvsei–verse 42; compare 27:32–eggarevsan. The sense of the verb is “commandeer.”

Our earliest commentary on these words of our Lord understands them as the effort to overcome evil by good: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. . . . Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. . . . Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:18-21; cf. 1 Corinthians 6:7; 1 Peter 2:20-23; 3:14).

These admonitions of Jesus fulfill and perfect the Mosaic Law by strengthening and extending the restraint taught in that Law, a restraint sought by the divine intent of the Law. The measured concession to vengeance in the Torah was analogous to the concession made to divorce. In both cases the command of Jesus goes to the deeper purpose sought by the Torah. This profound purpose of the Torah had about it a prophetic quality that the Gospel brings to fulfillment.

It is the implied claim of Jesus to discern the divine purpose even better than Moses did.

This antithesis dealing with revenge and violence leads logically to the next, which deals with the love of enemies (verses 43-48).

Monday, December 11

Revelation 18:9-24: Babylon has fallen. So why, exactly, is the fall of Babylon such a bad thing? Because it is bad for business! Babylon’s overthrow means very low profits on the stock market. Verses 12-13 list various products that won’t sell any more. The “futures” in frankincense and chariots are down by sixteen points, and the shekel is in free fall!

Everyone calls it a “crisis,” and they are right. In fact, John uses the Greek word krisis (“judgment”) to describe it (verse 10). The crash, when it comes, comes quickly, in a single hour (verses 10,17,19). John says that those who weep over Babylon do so from a distance (verse 10). That is, Babylon has mourners, but no helpers. At this final hour of her career, no one will stand with her. No one wants to be associated with her. She was part of an order in which true friendship had no place. It was an order founded on shared interests and profits, not on love. Babylon is bewailed, not for herself, but for her lost investments. In short, the fall of Babylon is bad for business, and John borrows heavily from Isaiah 23 and Ezekiel 27 in order to describe her plight.

We observe that John does not see Babylon fall. An angel tells him that it has already happened. John, that is to say, has no violent vision. There is no projection, here, of a vindictive spirit; it is, rather, the divine resolution of a cosmic problem. The fall of Babylon is not seen; it is revealed to John in a vision of light. John is not interested in revenge but in justice, in the setting right of the world order, and the right order of the world requires the overthrow of Babylon and idolatry, and materialism, and the hedonism for which Babylon stands as a symbol. Her fall is particularly related to her shedding of blood (verse 24). Babylon is thrown into the sea like a stone (verse 21). She is swallowed up in her own chaos (cf. Jeremiah 51:60-63; Luke 17:2,24-30).

John particularly notes the loss of musical instruments and technology, components of human life first devised by the sons of Cain (Genesis 4:17-30). Indeed, there has often been something a bit ambiguous about such music, morally considered. When King Nebuchadnezzar employed “the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music” for his idolatrous purposes, it was not the last instance when instrumental music served to deflect men from the worship of the true God. In fact, nonetheless, God designated musical instruments as appropriate to His own worship in the tabernacle and the temple. And, once again, in the Bible’s final book heaven resonates with the sounds of trumpet and harp, whereas the damned are forever deprived of such music! The sinful descendants of Cain, the very inventors of harp and flute, will never hear them again.

Tuesday, December 12

Matthew 6:1-4: These first four verses, on the subject of almsgiving, are proper to Matthew.

The first word, a plural imperative, is a summons to caution: “Take care,” prosechete. The Christian moral life has this in common with any serious moral system—namely, that an intense, reflective custody of the soul is necessary. In the present instance this custody has chiefly to do with the purity of one’s intentions. The entire moral life can be radically undermined by wrong intentions. Purification of intentions requires a most serious vigilance over the mind and will.

Jesus, having told us in a series of five contrasts, that our righteousness must excel that of the scribes and Pharisees, now insists that this righteousness (dikaiosyne) must not be “done” (poiein) for the benefit of human approval. Were this later to be the case, that human approval must suffice as its reward.

In this insistence we find complement to the preceding chapter. In the five contrasts just noted, attention was given to righteousness with respect to our dealings with our neighbors (control of the temper and the sexual impulse, complete honesty, non-resistance to aggression, and the love of enemies). Now the direction of righteousness is turned to God, our Father in heaven (verse 1).

This verse introduces the three subjects treated in this chapter, the great triad of traditional Jewish piety: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. Because our Lord Himself authoritatively juxtaposes these three components here in Matthew, it is normal to think of them together as constituting a kind of ascetical standard. In truth, for a very long time Christians (for example, Hermas and Leo I of Rome, John Chrysostom, Maximus the Confessor) have habitually spoken of the three together as sort of a paradigm or outline of biblical ascetical life. In pre-Christian biblical literature, however, that specific triad of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is found in only one place: Tobit 12:8. It is through Matthew that this triad passed into Christian piety.

Even as Jesus treats of these three practices of piety, however, He continues the spirit of the five contrasts that He elaborated in the previous chapter. Almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, He says, are all to be undertaken in a spirit that is contrasted with that of the hypocrites (verses 2,5,16). By now it is clear that this word refers to those same scribes Pharisees; it is shorthand for the Jewish leadership that set itself against Jesus and the Gospel. Matthew’s references to them in these early chapters show a rising hostility on their side, as well as Jesus’ disposition to take them to task. This latter disposition will reach its climax in chapter 23, which several times will condemn the “scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”

In the present text, these hypocrites are accused of failing to “take care” not to practice their righteousness to gain human approval. Theirs is not a true righteousness.

The first deed of righteousness named by Jesus is almsgiving (verses 2-4), which comes closest to the concerns of social behavior enunciated in the preceding five contrasts. The social nature of almsgiving makes it the easiest thing to do for human approval. However, those who abuse almsgiving by a bad intention are simply using the poor to their own advantage. Very well, says Jesus, they must be satisfied with that advantage (verse 2).

According to Gospel righteousness, on the other hand, the value of almsgiving must be preserved in secrecy. If the deed is disclosed to others, it loses its value before God (verse 3). The deed must not be spoiled by its motive.

Wednesday, December 13

Psalms 107 (Greek & Latin 106): This psalm 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.

Thus, for instance, when two sections of our psalm speak of suffering in a waterless, trackless wasteland, this may be understood as referring to the return from the Babylonian Exile as well as to the earlier wandering of the Exodus generation. It may also include any experience of being lost and trying to find one’s way back home. Thus, it may describe the journey of a reckless son lost in a distant country and already given up for dead (Luke 15:13, 24). This son, in turn, may be Jacob exiled in Harran, where the drought consumed him by day, and the frost by night, and sleep departed from his eyes (cf. Gen. 31:40).

And it may likewise be any one or all of us, exiled from the Garden and wandering away from the face of God. This part of the psalm, then, is a parable of ourselves “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12).

Similarly, the psalm’s next part, dealing with bondage or imprisonment, may refer to Joseph sold into slavery, fettered in a foreign land and presumed already to have perished (Gen. 37). Or it may be descriptive of Micaiah (1 Kin. 22:26, 27), or Jeremiah (chapters 37—39), or John the Baptist (Matt. 11; 14), or the Apostle Paul (Acts 23—26). And it may refer to our spiritual captivity, of which Jesus said that He came to set the oppressed at liberty (Luke 4:18).

Then there is the section of the psalm describing conditions of sickness, which is potentially manifold in its applications. This could be a prayer during the deathly illness of King Hezekiah, for instance, or the affliction of the paralytics of Capernaum (Mark 2) and Bethesda (John 5), or the woman with chronic bleeding (Mark 5), or the lame man at the gate called Beautiful (Acts 3). To Jesus, after all, they brought “all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them” (Matt. 4:24). And the Lord’s healing especially concerns the forgiveness of sins (cf. Mark 2:5; John 5:14). This part of the psalm, then, is also a metaphor of our own various illnesses.

Likewise, when our psalm speaks of enduring a storm at sea, it may refer to the storm suffered by the shipmates of Jonah, or St. Paul, or the disciples on the Lake of Gennesaret, while Jesus yet slept in the stern of the boat. The fierce storm of this story may also indicate all of us as “children, tossed to fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” (Eph. 4:14). Many and diverse are this world’s storms and hurricanes.

Our psalm is addressed to “those redeemed by the Lord.” Its historical meditation, that is to say, is directed to those who stand already “within” that history, the beneficiaries of its blessing. This is the Church, made up of “those whom He redeemed out of the hand of the enemy and assembled out of the lands.”

Our psalm summons such as us to meditate on what the Lord has done in our midst and on our behalf, “that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God” (1 Cor. 2:12). Psalm 106 is a call to that profound effort of thought and praise.

Thursday, December 14

Matthew 6.24-36: : These very practical verses in the Sermon on the Mount may be viewed from several perspectives, but let us today consider just three. These three are clearly discerned in the text itself.

First, there is what we may call full attention, a singleness of regard, indicated by the metaphor of a “simple eye.” “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is simple, your whole body will be full of light.” The word I am translating here as “simple” is aplou?, which is a moral term. In classical and Christian Greek literature aplou? denotes simplicity in the sense of sincerity, or “non-duplicity.” Thus, St. Clement of Rome, near the end of the first century, wrote to the Corinthians in reference to a “sincere mind,” ??????????????
The eye or the mind that can be described with this word is an eye or a mind fixed on one thing, concentrated on a single subject. Therefore it is pure and unpolluted. We recall Kierkegaard’s dictum that “purity of heart is to think one thought.”

St. John provides an illustration of this meaning in the final chapter of his Gospel, where Jesus says to Simon Peter: “Follow Me.” John goes on to relate, “Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?”

In this scene, you see, Peter’s eye is not simple. We are told, rather, “Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Peter turned around and was distracted. He was told to follow Jesus, but he turned around and looked elsewhere. He was not concentrated on the proper object. He was no longer minding his own business. So Jesus answer him, “Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.”

That is the question Jesus puts to everyone who would find distraction from simplicity of soul, “What is that to you?” In other words, the person with a simple eye is someone who attends to his own business. He refuses to distract his mind with matters that are outside of that interest. He has what today’s Gospel calls the ofqalmo??aplou?, simplicity of vision.

Second, let us consider the problem of distraction, which Jesus describes as an “evil eye.” In the Gospel of Matthew, this apparently refers to the sin of envy. We recall the parable of the laborers that come to work at various times through the day. At the end of the day, when they are all paid the same thing, they complain to the owner of the vineyard. They are envious; they are jealous, and the owner of the vineyard says to them, “Is your eye evil because I am good?” (20:15). This is the same expression we have in today’s Gospel, “evil eye.” This too is a moral expression. The “evil eye” is the mind that looks at other people with envy.

For example, when the Church blesses the mother of a newborn infant, we pray that the Lord will preserve her from “every evil eye.” In this petition we beseech the Lord to safeguard the new mother from all those that may become envious of her.

Envy is no light sin. Envy is the very opposite of that most Christian of sentiments, the giving of thanks. Envy is the very contradiction of thanksgiving. Envious people are not pleasant to be around. Whereas they should be giving thanks to God for the multiple blessings in their lives, they become bitter that others seem to have been blessed more than they. Just as few things will sweeten the soul more surely than thanksgiving, few evils will poison the heart more bitterly than envy.

Envy is especially insidious, for the simple reason that a person who commits it is almost always obliged to commit it in secret. A jealous person, after all, is not usually acceptable in society. That is to say, besides being a sin, envy is socially unacceptable, so it is a sin harder to admit. Sometimes it is difficult to admit even to oneself. This trait of secrecy, therefore, renders envy more difficult to deal with. The only known antidote to envy is thanksgiving.

Third, the natural companion of envy is anxiety. Our Lord goes on to explain, ““Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life.” The important word here is “therefore.” Freedom from anxiety is the result of getting rid of envy. Show me an envious person, and I will show you an anxious person, a person who is forever worried about what he will eat, what he will drink, what he will wear. Against all such worry today’s Gospel warns us, reminding us of the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, whom the heavenly Father feeds and clothes.

Anxiety is the matter of a commandment: “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” Please observe that the verb is a negative imperative, like most of the commandments in the Decalogue. Somehow we understand the commands, “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness.” Today we are commanded, twice, “do not worry.” This prohibition is also a revelation of God’s moral will. And how do we keep from worrying?

Let me offer two suggestions. The first has to do with the second point of this sermon, which was envy. I remarked that the true antidote against envy is thanksgiving. What is true of envy is true likewise of anxiety. If we would be free from worry, let us occupy our minds and hearts with thanksgiving. Those who give themselves perpetually to the giving of thanks for what they have are the persons least likely to be plagued by anxiety about what they do not have. The cultivation of thanksgiving, therefore, is the sure antidote to anxiety.

My second suggestion has to do with first point of this sermon, which was concentration of attention, which St. Matthew calls the “simple eye.” We lose our anxiety through our ability to concentrate, a verb which means coming to the center. Anxiety is a distraction from the center.

What does our Lord tell us today about such concentration? “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” You see, we bring anxiety upon ourselves whenever we fail to seek first the kingdom and righteousness of God. Freedom from anxiety is incompatible with seeking anything but the kingdom and righteousness of God. There is no other way to freedom from anxiety that concentration on the kingdom and righteousness of God. If, therefore, we find ourselves becoming anxious, let us carefully look for the root cause. After all, if I am not living for God, then anxiety is a very proper experience. God gives the promise of His good things only to those who seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, not those who pursue their own agenda.

Friday, December 16

Matthew 7.1-6: Just as the preceding verses told us not to worry about ourselves, these verses tell us not to worry about others. In neither case are we to take the place of God. This chapter, then, continues the theme of freedom from distraction, so that God receives our entire attention. One will also observe an irony in these verses. Immediately after being told not to “size up” others (6:1-5), we are exhorted to size them up! (6:6).

Psalms 113 (Greek & Latin 112): may be regarded as a companion psalm of the one immediately before it. In structure, the two are identical acrostics, each composed of twenty-two half-lines that begin with the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet in succession.

More than merely juxtaposed and similarly constructed, however, these two psalms are also joined by a common theme—wisdom, and especially wisdom’s relationship to obedience and the fear of the Lord. Thus, Psalm 112 closed with its famous statement about how the path to wisdom commences: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and all who practice it have a good understanding.” Psalm 113 immediately takes up the challenge, as it were, of this proclamation. “Blessed is the man that fears the Lord,” it says, “he will greatly delight in His commandments.”

Biblical “fear of the Lord,” which is the beginning of biblical wisdom, is not a psychological state marked by terror or timidity. Perhaps the correct idea is better conveyed by the word “reverence.” Still, the fear of the Lord is far more than the cultivated sentiment of reverence. It is, rather, a resolved dedication of oneself to the accomplishing of God’s will through the industry of obedience. As the psalm says, it is something to be practiced. The wisdom promised in Holy Scripture is derived from reverent obedience to God. Since this is a motif found here in two consecutive psalms, it merits a more elaborate explanation.

Much of contemporary religion is based on the dichotomy between Law and Gospel, which are usually contrasted to the advantage of the latter. Law, according to this popular distinction, has to do with fear and the performance of duty and is regularly thought of as an inferior, even servile, state. Gospel, on the other hand, is commonly conceived in terms of God’s free gift, conferred without respect to human merit or work, and having as a chief effect man’s deliverance from the burden of Law.

Now, though the foregoing distinction between Law and Gospel is not without foundation in Holy Scripture and is, indeed, useful to clarify many important aspects of theology, it hardly provides an adequate paradigm for the whole of Christian thought and experience. With respect to the “fear of the Lord,” for example, which is a motif common to these two psalms, that distinction between Law and Gospel proves to be quite inadequate. It is not hard to see why. If the fear of the Lord means reverent obedience to His will, the paradigm Law-or-Gospel will almost certainly put this obedience in the former category, Law. Thus, obedience would be something associated with duty, perhaps even servile duty. What, after all, could obedience have to do with Gospel?

Unfortunately, this line of thought is rather common. For instance, one may read modern commentaries on the Sermon on the Mount, premised solely on that foregoing dichotomy between Law and Gospel, that treat even the prescriptions of our blessed Lord Himself as simply points of Law, promulgated for the purpose of teaching frail and failing man his need for a Gospel of grace that will deliver him from such Law. That is to say, Jesus gave us these commandments on the Mount precisely that we might fail to obey them! Now this is a preposterous interpretation. If Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount can find no place under the heading of Gospel, one is at a loss to say what can.

But the Gospel itself includes a call to a life of obedience (cf. Rom. 6:16; 15:18; 1 Pet. 1:2). In fact, the very act of faith, which is man’s correct response to the Gospel, involves a certain kind of obedience. It is called the hypakoe pisteos—“obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5; 16:26; cf. Acts 6:7). Obedience to God’s will, moreover, is the living out of our faith.

And it is this reverent obedience, called the fear of the Lord, that leads to wisdom. Such is the burden of both these psalms.

The deeper message of these psalms, however, is Christological before it is moral, for our righteousness is ever a sharing in the righteousness of Christ. That is to say, the wise man, who fears the Lord and greatly delights in His commandments, is, in the first place, Jesus the Savior. He it is, described here as generous and just and unshaken, as leaving a seed powerful on the earth, as being had in eternal remembrance.