Lectionary Reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent

This excerpt comes from Genesis (BTCB) by R. R. Reno, commenting on Genesis 15:1:

The whole question of faith and works has been hopelessly muddied by centuries of Protestant and Catholic polemic. Two points are worth keeping in mind, however.

First, in the main, the Reformers endorsed Abraham’s lament as spiritually legitimate. All the Reformation talk of forensic and imputed righteousness was meant to clarify the source of the possibility of good works, which comes from the grace of God alone. We do not give birth to the promise that creates an alternative to sin. The promise comes from God; it is imputed.

But the Reformers also agreed that we rightly expect God to make good on his promise of new life in Christ. On this point they were on common ground with their Catholic adversaries, who tended to think that the emphasis on grace alone had the effect of denying any actual human capacity for righteous deeds. In spite of polemical distortions that can lead us to think otherwise, according to both, if the promises of God are true, then faith must make a difference.

The second point is to remember that Genesis gives a great deal of space to the extraordinary delays and complications that emerge in God’s response to Abraham’s lament. Isaac is a long time coming, and the child disrupts Abraham’s household, bringing as much pain as joy. Thus, to return to the terms of James and the Reformation debates, we should not expect faith to produce good works immediately, and when faith does, we should not expect the righteous deeds of the true servants of Christ to be aglow with a pleasant, easy sanctity.

 

 

©2010 by R. R. Reno. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Lectionary Reflection for the First Sunday of Lent

This excerpt comes from Luke (BTCB) by David Lyle Jeffrey, commenting on Luke 4:1-13:

Luke BTCB

Scriptural narrative presents three direct temptations by Satan; these, in canonical order, are the temptation of Adam and Eve, the temptation of Job, and the temptation of Jesus here in Luke’s Gospel. Unsurprisingly, these three episodes have been connected by Christian exegetes down through the centuries in various ways, but especially by seeing the resistance of temptation by Jesus as a paradigmatic reversal of the yielding of Eve and Adam in the garden of Eden. That this connection is invited by Luke, arranging and concluding his genealogy of Jesus as he does with Jesus as “the son of Adam, the son of God” (3:38), has seemed to much of Christian tradition an obvious element of his narrative design.

Thus, Ambrose speaks for many: “There is here an Adam typology and a Genesis background to this story: as Adam is cast out of paradise into the wilderness, so Christ, the new Adam, goes into the wilderness on our behalf, then to come forth from that temptation to lead us back to paradise” (Exposition of Luke 4.7). Parallels with Job are a frequent theme in Protestant theologians and poets such as Henry Oxenden’s Jobus Triumphans (1656) and especially John Milton’s Paradise Regained (1671), where the “two Adams” theme nonetheless still predominates: Milton bases his companion to Paradise Lost on Luke’s rather than Matthew’s account with its different order of temptations (Matt. 4:1–11) because it suited what he called his own “grand design” to place the temptation of the tower last.

Milton, though influenced by Calvin, is in this preference for Luke’s account certainly following the more dominant typology (Paradise Regained 2.129–39). What seems to emerge in these Lukan passages is a strong reminder that in biblical narrative in general there is a cosmic agōn or struggle taking place for the human soul (Calvin 1972: 1.135).

©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

 

 

Lectionary Reflection for the Last Sunday after Epiphany

This excerpt comes from Luke (BTCB) by David Lyle Jeffrey, commenting on Luke 9:28-36:

The echo of Jesus’s baptism (Luke 3:22) in the divine voice from the cloud is to Luke unmistakable: “This is my beloved Son [literally, “this is the Son of me, having been chosen”]. Hear him” (9:35). The reference to Jesus having been “chosen” (ho eklelegmenos) is found only in Luke (cf. Isa. 42:1). Mark 9:7 and Matt. 17:5 appear to echo the divine pronouncement at Jesus’s baptism more precisely.

The point in each case is clear: the Father’s distinctive identification with the Son. What Luke adds uniquely, Gentile though he was, is a characteristically Jewish way of hearing it, tying the identity of Jesus even more closely to the messianic prophecies now being fulfilled. Jesus is God’s distinctive, ultimate, authoritative Word; he is also the Suffering Servant, the true Israel, the Chosen. As the transfiguration ends, the three see Jesus “alone,” and this time, they apparently need no warning to “keep it close,” not to disclose “in those days any of those things they had seen” (Luke 9:36).

They had been standing on very holy ground, and they now understood the identity of Jesus in a far more profound way than ever before. As Calvin says, also framing his remarks with an eye to the Epistle to the Hebrews, “And this is why the Apostle says in Hebrews [1:1] ‘God, who at sundry times and diverse manners spake in time past through the prophets, hath in these last days spoken by his Son’” (1972: 2.201).

 

©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

 

Lectionary Reflection for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

This excerpt comes from Luke (BTCB) by David Lyle Jeffrey, commenting on Luke 4:14-30:

Luke BTCBJesus responds to the skepticism he knows is rising in their hearts with a “proverb” (Greek parabolē; the Hebrew equivalent, māšāl, can mean any figurative saying as well as “parable”). Jesus knows what they really want is for him to do in their own midst some of the miracles he has done up north in Capernaum (4:23). They want to see signs and wonders here and now, in their own village; they have little interest in the larger context. His response immediately points up two things that his audience in Nazareth, as elsewhere, does not like to hear: first, that Israel more often than not has rejected the prophets (4:24) and, second, that, as a result, wonders of the Lord were sometimes then performed by the prophets among the Gentiles instead, as witnessed by Elijah’s blessing of the widow of Zarephath (4:25; cf. 1 Kgs. 17:9–24).

Jesus is here reminding his hearers pointedly of the same thing John did in the previous chapter (Luke 3:8–9): if Israel thinks its special covenant relationship with God is all that matters, their disobedience notwithstanding, they have not been paying sufficient attention to either the Law or the Prophets. Cyril of Alexandria grasps the point firmly: by these two stories of Elijah and Elisha, he says, Jesus is referring to the “heathen who were about to accept him and be healed of their leprosy, by reason of Israel’s remaining impenitent” (1983: Homily 12). It seems more than probable that Luke, a Gentile himself, must have noticed these long-standing biblical patterns and pondered over their recurrent frequency in the teaching of Jesus and the ministry of the apostles.

We have to conclude from the suddenly impassioned and violent response of the crowd in the synagogue that, here as elsewhere, any suggestion that God would bypass the Jews and confer his blessing on the hated Gentiles has produced a hair-trigger animosity; Lightfoot’s general observations about this reflex suggest that the pattern of response to this message everywhere in the New Testament was well grounded in long-standing Jewish prejudice (1979: 3.59). The enraged crowd drags Jesus out and tries to shove him off a cliff, presumably so as then to stone him. But somehow, mysteriously, he escapes (4:29–30), for, as Bede says, reflecting Luke’s words, “the hour of his passion had not yet come” (quoted in Aquinas, Catena Aurea 3.1.163).

©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

 

 

Lectionary Reflection for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany

This excerpt comes from Psalms 1-50 (BTCB) by Ellen Charry, commenting on Psalm 19:

Psalm 19 hopes to attract us to the glory of God in stages. Beginning with the Creator (perhaps because contemplating God as Creator is relatively easy), the psalmist lures us to consider the wisdom of God the legislator as he carries us into deeper water. His final step is meant to stir up longing to become the beautifully pure self that God deserves from those on whom he lavishes such care and effort.

God’s teaching (torah) is perfect (19:7), and the speaker knows that genuine reverence for God is pure (19:9). Lured as he is, the speaker wants to be blameless, and cleansed of small hidden faults (19:12) as well as great transgressions (19:13). Psalm 19 aims for a person’s best self in the hope that she will enlist as one of God’s radiant servants.

As stirring as the poetry and imagery of this psalm are, perhaps its greatest appeal comes from its unfeigned candor. Moral arousal, however necessary, will not suffice. More than volunteering is needed. God must make one more push for his people—this time not in a public way, as with the heavenly bodies and the commandments, but on a deeply personal level. God must protect the would-be servant from going astray and accept the meditation of her heart that she might find acceptance.

The point is not, however, that one should think of oneself as a dirty mop that needs to be cleansed in a bucket of water and wrung dry of its dirt. Thinking of oneself as a mop besotted with dirty water from cleaning the floor betrays both the beauty of the commandments (the water that washes us) and the beautiful self whose heart rejoices in God’s ways. Psalm 19 has something else in mind. While it concludes on a suitably humble note, it calls us to envision ourselves as partakers of the glory of God—proclaimed by the sun as much as by torah—so that we might triumph as God’s faithful servants.

©2015 by Ellen T. Charry. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Lectionary Reflection for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany

This excerpt comes from Psalms 1-50 (BTCB) by Ellen Charry, commenting on Psalm 36:5-10:

Psalm 36:5–9 also prompts reflection on the unfathomability of divine providence and raises the question of theodicy, where moral intuition expects mercy for the righteous but harsh judgment seems to prevail as they suffer. Commenting on 36:6, which says that divine judgment is like great mountains and deep oceans, Ibn Ezra sounds a note of pious agnosticism:

“People cannot bear Your righteousness, for [it] is like the mighty mountains. However, in reality its meaning is that God’s righteousness is beyond comprehension. It is like the mighty and powerful mountains that no man can reach. The knowledge of God’s judgments is similarly like the great obscure deep, which man cannot see.”

However, the poet assures the righteous that they will feast delightedly at God’s table, “for the core of life is with you and in your light we see light” (36:8–9). That last (famous) phrase is tantalizingly ambiguous and invites speculation. Theodore interprets the light literally, insisting against other commentators that the light is not Christ but rather the physical gift of light, which is, indeed, the fountain of life. “[David’s] meaning was to present the utter generosity and abundance of God’s gift—hence his mention of these two things in particular: the light . . . and enjoyment of the light.” God is therefore shown to be both “creator” and “provider”; he gives “some [of those things] for our continuance and sustenance, some for us to have a pleasurable and beneficial enjoyment of life.”

Feasting in God’s house (36:8), which refers to salvation for those who take refuge in God, speaks to Christians of heavenly reward after this life although that idea is not in the text. While Theodore denies that these verses allude to Christ, Augustine is sure that they do. Eschatologically, Christ is the fountain of life.

“The reality is that a fountain is light also; you may call it what you will, because it is not what you call it. You cannot find a suitable name, because it is not captured by any one name. If you were to say that it is light, and only light, someone might object, ‘What then was the point of telling me that I am to hunger and thirst? Can anyone eat light? That other hint that was given me was obviously more apt: Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God (Matt. 5:8). I had better prepare my eyes, then.’ Yes, but prepare your throat too, because the reality that is light is also a fountain: a fountain because it drenches the thirsty, light because it illumines the blind. . . . Here below the two may be separated; but there you will never flag, because there will be the fountain for you, and you will never walk in darkness, for there is light.”

©2015 by Ellen T. Charry. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Lectionary Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

This excerpt comes from Luke (BTCB) by David Lyle Jeffrey, commenting on Luke 1:46-55:

Mary’s Magnificat is a glorious lyric, a poetic summary from scripture, filled with Old Testament phrases and praises of the God who keeps his own covenanted faithfulness and brings his word to fulfillment (Gen. 17:19; 1 Sam. 2:7–8; Pss. 138:6; 71:19; 126:2–3; 111:9; 103:17; 98:1; 118:15; Isa. 41:8; Hab. 3:18).

Echoes of Torah, of the rejoicing of Hannah, but most of all of the psalms of David are woven together into an exuberant poem. And it seems fitting that one who is to bring into the world the “word from the beginning,” the long-awaited “David’s royal son,” should be among women a poet and human author of a seminal scripture herself.

As with the song of her namesake predecessor Miriam (Exod. 15) and the psalms of her ancestor David, so Mary’s song is poetry attuned for joyous praise; in it God is found to be greater than all our frail imaginings of him. Ambrose remarks that everyone should aspire to “the spirit of Mary, so that he may rejoice in the Lord” (Exposition of Luke 2.2c).

Botticelli has a painting, Madonna della Magnificat, in which (also “poetical”) Mary is shown writing her great poem into Luke’s book as the evangelist holds her inkwell! Spiritually, this painting echoes the comment of Ambrose. The Hebraic verbal echoes are deep and resonate already in the greeting of Gabriel and Elizabeth: “Blessed is the man . . . [whose] delight is in the law of the Lord” (Ps. 1); blessed is the man, and so also blessed is the woman who is found in the way of complete openness to the word of God.

Bonaventure’s summary seems most apt: “Her canticle shows that the fulfillment of all promised blessings has come about, and therefore brings about the fulfillment of all praise and canticles and even of the [entire] Scriptures” (2001–4: 1.1.100).

 

©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

 

Lectionary Reflection for the Third Sunday of Advent

This excerpt comes from Luke (BTCB) by David Lyle Jeffrey, commenting on Luke 3:7-18:

Ambrose reflects a widespread view among early commentators that John is here “a type of the law, because the law could denounce sin, but not pardon it” (Exposition of Luke 2.68; cf. Calvin 1972: 1.11). Later he adds, “there is therefore one baptism of repentance and another of grace” (Exposition of Luke 2.79).

Here the baptism is a sign of true and most practical repentance and John’s prophetic office: to the penitents’ Ezekiel-like question, “What shall we do then?” (Luke 3:10), John’s answer to those who have possessions is that they share them (3:11), to the tax collectors for the Roman government that they take no more than is appropriate (3:12–13), and to the soldiers that they should “not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with [their] wages” (3:14).

Both early and medieval commentators (Origen may have been the first) noted how these three groups of penitents reflected the three basic estates as they understood them: commoners, clerks, and knights (soldiers); these who come to John are thus a representative remnant of Jewish society.

This aspect of John’s message, namely that a scrupulous ethical life is both necessary for a true repentance and certainly consequent upon it, is recorded uniquely in Luke’s Gospel: “fruits worthy of repentance” (3:8) establish that reformed action, not mere membership, is the criterion, and it connects this passage, as Bonaventure notes, to the prospect of God’s judgment (2001–4: 1.20.240; cf. Matt. 21:19; Luke 13:7; Dan. 4:11).

Here, as earlier in Old Testament contexts, almsgiving is related to the idea that sin incurs indebtedness to both God and neighbor, and gifts to the house of the Lord and to the needy are ways provided by which our indebtedness may be satisfied (Augustine, Sermon 389). This concept will carry over into the teaching of Jesus, as the prayer he taught the disciples (Luke 11:2–4) and the repentance of Zacchaeus (19:8–10) make clear.

Calvin says that “good works are called the fruits of repentance, for repentance is an inward thing . . . but results in the production of fruit by a change of life” (1972: 1.122). In the light of 3:10–14, as read by the church down through the centuries, we cannot doubt that 3:8–9 links the general absence of “works worthy of repentance” in the larger population to Israel’s disfavor and God’s judgment, and so prompts John the Baptist’s prophetic image of “the ax . . . laid to the root of the trees” (3:9). He is here, as we are later told explicitly, the last of the Old Testament prophets (16:16).

 

©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

 

Lectionary Reflection for the Second Sunday of Advent

This excerpt comes from Luke (BTCB) by David Lyle Jeffrey, commenting on Luke 3:1-6:

To anyone familiar with the Jewish scriptures there was something about John the Baptist that ineluctably echoed the prophets of old. For one thing, the “word” (rhēma) or revelation came to John in the desert. This already has a prophetic connotation (cf. Jer. 1:1–14). For another, it wasn’t just that John preached the need to repent. It was, at least in part, that he preached it out in the desert, “in the wilderness” (Luke 3:2).

Luke makes explicit the connection of John to Isaiah, citing an evidently messianic passage (Isa. 40:3–5). Here Luke puts together the judgment voice of Isaiah’s condemnation of Israel and calling it to repentance (cf. Isa. 11) with the consolatory mood of Isa. 40 (“comfort ye my people”) in a striking juxtaposition. John is here not only acting, as Malachi had predicted, as an agent to turn “the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Mal. 4:6; Luke 7:27), but in a more radically transgenerational way calling the dispirited and scattered Israel of his time to repent. Then he invites the penitents to be baptized as a sign of cleansing from their sins so that these individuals may become the faithful Israel long ago covenanted in a spiritual marriage to Israel’s most holy God.

This message could hardly have come at a time when the Jewish political fortunes were at a lower ebb—at least since the Babylonian captivity and perhaps the “abomination of desolation,” the setting up by Antiochus IV Epiphanes of a statue of Zeus Olympus on the altar of burnt offerings. As Gregory the Great and Bonaventure have it, it was clear to all that “Judea had come to an end, for it was subjected and divided into so many kingdoms” (Bonaventure 2001–4: 1.5.228). Jerusalem was now again possessed by an alien power; all manner of vile judgment had fallen on it, and when the authentic voice of a prophet as of old was heard to cry out in the desert, many who were despondent but yet yearned in their hearts for the peace of Jerusalem went out to hear this prophet for themselves.

 

©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

 

Lectionary Reflection for the Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King

This excerpt comes from 2 Samuel (BTCB) by Robert Barron, commenting on 2 Samuel 23:1-7:

Cover Art

The prophetic message itself now follows: “One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land” (2 Sam. 23:3–4). The trope of sun for king is a fairly common one throughout the ancient Near East—Hammurabi comes readily to mind—and the morning dew probably refers to the fruitfulness that comes from the meeting of just leadership and an obedient people.

To be sure, the classical philosophical tradition placed great emphasis on the indispensability of upright rule. One needs only to think of Plato’s philosopher-king or Aristotle’s just monarch who reigns for the sake of the common good. But what is most interesting in this context is how the line functions as a summary of the entire Davidic narrative, which has been a sustained meditation on kingship.

From the time of Adam, the human race has required good leadership. Without rightly ordered kingship, the garden devolves into a desert, and human beings become the victims of threatening powers. David’s emergence as a righteous king, ruling in accord with divine purposes, was the condition for the possibility of Israel’s flourishing as a prosperous empire. And his devolution into unrighteous leadership led by a short road to disaster both political and religious. When law, governance, and power become simply the means for the king’s aggrandizement or tools by which he can manipulate the people, the nation falls into deep dysfunction.

If Plato’s criterion for measuring right rule is the realm of the forms and Aristotle’s the intuition of virtue, the Bible’s criterion is none other than the lordship of God. Next, the singer makes another reference to the Nathan prophecy: “Is not my house like this with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure” (2 Sam. 23:5). The tragedy, of course, is that the well-ordered kingdom began to fall apart in David’s own lifetime and definitively splintered during the reign of his son. The only house that fulfills the expectation expressed here is the house of Christ’s body, which proves across time that the God of Israel is eternally faithful to his promises.

©2015 by Robert Barron. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.