March 29 – April 5, 2024

Good Friday, March 29

Psalms 22 (Greek & Latin 21): This psalm figures significantly in Matthew’s account of the death of Jesus. It is quoted, in fact, three times: once by the Evangelist, once by Jesus’ tormentors, and once by Jesus himself.
The first quotation comes in the way Matthew describes the distribution of Jesus’ garments: “Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet: ‘They divided My garments among them and for My clothing they cast lots.’” Matthew indicates his theological perspective on the crucifixion by this citation from Psalm 22. He identifies Jesus as the suffering Just Man in the Psalter.

By citing this psalm at the beginning of the crucifixion scene, Matthew invites his readers to consider the psalm as a whole. The immediate context of the cited verse, for example, includes the Psalmist’s words, “They pierced My hands and My feet.” Matthew feels no compulsion to quote this line from the same psalm; he presumed its relevance to be obvious.

Matthew’s second quotation from this same psalm is found on the lips of Jesus’ tormentors: “And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ ?Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, “I am the Son of God.”’”

Once again, the significance of Psalm 22 in Matthew’s description is not exhausted by his direct quotation from that psalm. He expects his readers to be familiar with the surrounding verses of the psalm: “I am a worm, and no man, a reproach unto men, and despised by the people. All those who see Me ridicule Me; They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, ‘He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue Him; Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!’”

Finally, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus himself quotes Psalm 22: “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

Like Mark, Matthew gives a Greek translation of these words after citing them in the original language heard from the Cross. The language of this quotation—a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic—indicates that we are hearing the very words spoken by Jesus.

When, therefore, Matthew views the crucifixion through the lens of Psalm 22, he follows the lead of Jesus, who took this psalm on His own lips as a dying prayer. Jesus knew himself to be the authentic voice of the persecuted Just Man of the Psalter.

Holy Saturday, March 30

Matthew 27.62-66: Matthew alone tells the story of the elaborate security provided by the Jewish leaders to guarantee that the body of Jesus would not be stolen. This account must be completed by a later one (28:11-13),in which those same enemies insist that the body was stolen! Matthew’s interest here is likewise apologetic.

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

Matthew’s style is freighted with irony. Quoting their fear that “the last deception will be worse than the first,” he identifies the deceivers as Jesus’ enemies. This last ruse of theirs will truly be worse than the earlier efforts.

Matthew recorded all this material, of course, looking back through the lens of what finally transpired!

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

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

These considerations, moreover, bear a special relevance to the interpretation of the Book of Psalms, for this section of the Bible, which became the Church’s official prayer book for all times, was singled out for specific consideration (Luke 24:44). On Easter, 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 the present psalm 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, Psalm 15 describes the Resurrection of Christ (Acts 2.22-28),

And as David prayed Psalm 16 in persona Christi, looking forward to the one who was to come, so do Christians, when they pray this psalm, identify themselves in hope with the risen Christ, for we too will rise with Him: “And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power” (1 Cor. 6:14); “He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus” (2 Cor. 4:14); “He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies” (Rom. 8:11).

Easter Sunday, March 31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 1

Mark 16.9-10: The Gospel accounts—in the measure they reflect Christian apologetics—are emphatic on this point. The risen Jesus commands his friends: “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Handle me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Luke 24:38). The post-Resurrection accounts depict Jesus as being touched (John 20:27), embraced (Matthew 28:9), and clung to (John 20:17).

The Song of Solomon 2: The reason why the Synagogue lectionary appoints this book to be read at Passover is suggested in 2:10-12: “My beloved spoke and said to me: ‘Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grapes give a good smell. Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away!’”

The damp winter weather has departed, and the spring of deliverance has arrived, says the voice of God, who now speaks tenderly to Israel, taking His espoused people by the hand to leave the bondage of Egypt: “Rise up, and come away!” Truly, “the time of singing has come.” In its deepest meaning, this is a book about the divine espousals of the Exodus, in which God says of His bride: “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, will bring her into the wilderness and speak comfort to her. I will give her her vineyards from there, and the Valley of Achor as a door of hope. She shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, as in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt” (Hosea 2:14-15). Here are the grapes, the song, and the intimacy of divine love.

When God led His people forth from bondage, He did so in a cloud, and the cloud of the Exodus is spoken of in this book (3:6). Israel the bride is portrayed as walking majestically in the wilderness (6:10; 8:5). The Song of Solomon is proclaimed at Passover because it celebrates the Exodus nuptials of God with Israel. Accordingly, we will follow our reading of The Song of Solomon by reading the Book of Exodus.

The Song of Solomon is appropriately proclaimed by Christians during Paschal season, because this season celebrates Christ’s espousal of the Church to Himself. This is the marriage season of the Lamb and His bride, proclaimed in the closing chapters of Revelation. We read the Song of Solomon at this season because it is a book about marriage, and marriage, by its very nature and structure, is an image and type of the union of Christ and His Church. This is not a level of meaning artificially imposed upon the Sacred Text. It is based on the doctrinal meaning of marriage itself (Ephesians 5:22-33). The Church is the New Eve drawn from the pierced side of the New Adam as He hung in sleep upon the Cross.

Tuesday, April 2
The Song of Solomon 3: If the imagery of this book seems too erotic to have a spiritual meaning, it would be good to remind ourselves that there are other instances where the imagery is just as erotic and the spiritual meaning is even more explicit. For example, here is how Ezekiel describes the Exodus: “‘I made you thrive like a plant in the field; and you grew, matured, and became very beautiful. Your breasts were formed, your hair grew, but you were naked and bare. When I passed by you again and looked upon you, indeed your time was the time of love; so I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine,’ says the Lord God” (16:7-8).

Today’s mention of “King Solomon with the crown with which his other crowned him on the day of his wedding, the day of the gladness of his heart” (verse 11) has long been read by Christians as a reference to Jesus’ crowning with thorns by His mother, the synagogue that condemned Him on the day that He took the Church to Himself as His Bride forever. Indeed, among the Christians of the East the standard icon of Jesus wearing the crown of thorns, which is very much used during the liturgical services of Holy Week, is still known simply as Ho Nymphios, “The Bridegroom.”

Psalms 78 (Greek & Latin 77): This psalm is a kind of poetic summary of the Books of Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and even some of Joshua, Judges, and 1 Samuel. It concentrates on the Chosen People’s constant infidelity and rebellion, but especially during the desert pilgrimage: “But they sinned even more against Him by rebelling against the Most High in the wilderness. . . . How often they provoked Him in the wilderness, and grieved Him in the desert! Yes, again and again they tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel. They did not remember His power: The day when He redeemed them from the enemy.”

Quite a number of hours are required to read the whole story of the people’s infidelity in the desert as it is recorded through several books of the Bible. Psalm 78, however, has long served as a sort of meditative compendium of the whole account. Its accent falls on exactly those same moral warnings that we saw in 1 Corinthians and Hebrews—the people’s failure to take heed to what they had already beheld of God’s deliverance and His sustained care for them. They had seen the plagues that He visited on the Egyptians, they had traversed the sea dry-shod, they had been led by the pillar of cloud and fire, they had slaked their thirst with the water from the rock, they had eaten their fill of the miraculous bread, they had trembled at the base of Mount Sinai, beholding the divine manifestation. In short, they had already been the beneficiaries of God’s revelation, salvation, and countless blessings.

Still, “their heart was not steadfast with Him, nor were they faithful in His covenant.” And just who is being described here? Following the lead of the New Testament, we know it is not only the Israelites of old, but also ourselves, “upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” The story in this psalm is our own story. So we carefully ponder it and take warning.

Wednesday, April 3

Luke 24.13-49: The meaning of the Sacred Scriptures was a preoccupation of Luke’s Gospel from the start. It was the burden of Jesus’ first sermon at the synagogue in Nazareth, when he gave his own reading of the Book of Isaiah. It was the subject of Jesus conversation with Moses and Elijah on the mount of the Transfiguration. In the Emmaus story in chapter 24, Jesus feigns ignorance precisely with a view to teaching the two disciples—and through them, all Christians to the end of time—his own understanding of the biblical text. Jesus was not “working out” a religious theory. He was taking possession of his own identity.

This was a process of growth, and Jesus’ study of the Hebrew Scriptures was integral to that growth. He did read books, and he learned from them. The works of Moses, David, Jeremiah, and the others truly contoured his mind and conscience. The mental horizon of Jesus, as we discern it in the four gospels, took shape during those long years at Nazareth, where—Luke tells us—he went to the synagogue “according to his custom.”

So when Luke also says, “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature,” it is wrong to imagine his growth was unrelated to what he read—any more than his increase in stature was unrelated to what he ate (Luke 2:52).

Luke is our chief source on this matter. In fact, he is the evangelist who describes Jesus reading and interpreting Isaiah near the very beginning of his pubic ministry (Luke 4:16-21).

The Law and the Prophets shaped his self-awareness in an unparalleled way, because the Savior found in those writings his identity, vocation, and mission. His grasp of those texts—an understanding at the root of Christian theology—is the very substance of Jesus’ “self-regard.” It was in studying the Hebrew Bible that Jesus became convinced, “I must be about the things of my Father” (Luke 2:49).

What David and Isaiah wrote, then, was not something different from who Jesus knew himself to be—and what his Father summoned him to do.

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

Thursday, April 4

1 Corinthians 15.1-19: The Resurrection of Christ is not just one event others. It is an event which, if it happened, is the most important thing that has ever happened. It cannot simply be received as just another piece of information. Indeed, every other piece of information must be tested against it.

Christ is risen and Jesus is Lord are two ways of saying the same thing. The claim made here is that of total finality. When the Apostles proclaimed Jesus as risen, however, they did not mean that he had somehow survived in a spiritual state after his death on the Cross. They meant, quite plainly, “he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:4). It was an event, not a static condition.

Also, it was emphatically physical, not in the sense of induced by physical forces, but in the sense that it happened to the body. Had this not been the case, the Resurrection of Jesus would not have happened according to the Scriptures. The Resurrection-hope held out by Holy Scripture had to do with the body. When Isaiah prophesied, “Your dead shall live,” he went on to specify, “their corpses will arise” (Isaiah 26:19).

It was this physical quality of the Christian hope that proved to be too challenging for some of the brethren at Corinth. They summarized their argument with the sarcastic query. “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” (1 Corinthians 15:35)

What those individuals contested was not a belief in an afterlife, but the physical cosmology implicitly contained in the thesis, “the God of our fathers raised up Jesus” (Acts 5:30). They were unable to grasp that the Gospel proclaimed this truth as a vindication of the whole created order.

Holy Scripture, after all, had not declared, “God approved of all the spiritual things He had made,” but, “God saw everything (kol) that He had formed, and indeed it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31).

It was in refuting the skeptics at Corinth that the Apostle Paul came to understand the Resurrection of Christ as God’s historical act for the purpose of rectifying the evils inflicted on the created order by Adam’s Fall. The Resurrection had to be physical, because death and corruption were physical.

Although it was a single event in history, the “logic” of the Resurrection implied that the whole physical world, starting with the bodies of Christians, was destined for restoration and transformation through the risen and glorified flesh of Christ. This meant that the true and ultimate afterlife anticipated by Christians was not based on the immortality of the soul, but on the resurrection of the body.

Friday, April 5

1 Corinthians 15.20-34: in these verses Paul moves from apologetics to theology, and he marks the transition with a formal “now”: “But now Christ is risen from the dead and has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

To speak theologically means to address truth through the categories, the images, the questions, and the declarations of Holy Scripture. The Resurrection of Christ was not just a bare fact. It was a theological revelation. It happened “according to the Scriptures.” Because this was so, Paul consulted Holy Scripture, in order to grasp what the Resurrection meant.

It is most significant that the first Scripture he consulted on this matter was Genesis. Whereas St. Peter consulted the Book of Psalms for this purpose (Acts 2:24-36), Paul went back to one of the earliest episodes of biblical history, the account of the Fall: “For since death came through a man, through a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22).

The Song of Solomon 6: It is important that the erotic imagery of The Song of Solomon is not separated from its covenant context. The bride in this book is not just any pretty girl. She is the unique beloved, his one and only, and she is constantly referred to in those terms. She is his sealed fountain (4:12; cf. Proverbs 5:15-19). This is a book about covenant fidelity, even beyond the grave (cf. 8:6-7).

At the same time, and like all love poetry, it stresses the theme of losing and finding one another, because in so many instances husbands and wives do this their whole life long. Great attention is given to presence and absence (4:8; 6:1), and therefore searching (3:1-5; 5:2-8).

Very important to this book is the imagery of the garden, for which the Song of Solomon uses the Persian word paradeisos, the very place where Jesus said He would meet the thief on the cross (Luke 23:43). This garden evokes, of course, the original garden, the garden of man’s innocence, where he lived in intimacy with God. It was in that garden, too, that man and woman enjoyed the intimacy of their married love, in the days before clothing was deemed necessary. The joys of sexual intimacy between husband and wife, as they are described in this book, attempt to approximate man’s original state in that original garden. This joy that husband and wife find in one another is one of the basic human blessings that was not entirely lost by man’s fall.