Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Luke 24 and Reading the Scriptures

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27)
Luke 24 records two encounters that took place on the evening of the Resurrection, two encounters that are important for how we read the Scriptures (the Old Testament). The first was when Jesus came upon the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The second was after the Emmaus disciples came and found the Eleven disciples huddled in Jerusalem and told them what had happened; suddenly and inexplicably, Jesus was standing among them.

The Emmaus disciples had been downcast about what had happened. They had believed Jesus was a great prophet but were now very confused. Jesus had been crucified and was buried, and just that morning the tomb was found empty — and they didn’t know what to think. Now here was Jesus standing before them, though they did not realize it was him. Jesus told them how foolish they were not to believe all the prophets have spoken, about how Messiah must “suffer these things and then enter his glory.” It had all been in the Scriptures, but they had not recognized it. So Jesus interpreted Moses and the Prophets for them concerning all these things. This was no mere recital about bits and pieces scattered here and there; Jesus showed them that the Scriptures are about him, especially how he must suffer and enter into his glory — he showed them the Cross and Resurrection.

When they reached their destination, they invited Jesus to stay with them. Jesus accepted, and at table with them he took bread, gave thanks for it, broke it and gave it to them. In that eucharistic action, their eyes were “opened” (the Greek word is dienoigen, which means to open thoroughly) and they immediately recognized Jesus.
Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened [dienoigen] the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:31-32)
Jesus vanished from their sight. They had not recognized him when he first encountered them, though he was clearly visible to their physical sight. But now they could see him clearly in the Scriptures and in the Eucharistic action. Notice the two movements here: Jesus “opened” (dienoigen) the Scriptures to them. Second, their eyes were “opened” (dienoigen) at the Breaking of the Bread.

Why did Jesus open the Scriptures to them? It was because they were closed. Was Jesus carrying around all the Old Testament scrolls and then he literally unrolled them? Of course not. Yet he opened thoroughly the Scriptures to them — not a little, but thoroughly — so they could see that they are about Jesus the Messiah. Before, they had not understood them. Now they did, and now they could see Jesus clearly in them. Before, the Scriptures had been veiled to them, though they had not realized it. But now Christ thoroughly opened them, and the veil was lifted.

In the second encounter, the two Emmaus disciples were with the Eleven in Jerusalem when Jesus suddenly appeared, standing in their midst.
He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened [dienoigen] their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:44-47)
Up until now, the Eleven had not understood the Scriptures. They knew them, they heard them read, but they had not understood them who they are about. They had been with Jesus for three years, hearing his parables and teachings, witnessing his miracles, but they had not understood the Christ-centered, cross-shaped nature of the Scriptures. But now Jesus thoroughly opened their minds to understand them and see they are about Jesus.

Christ thoroughly opened the Scriptures to them. He thoroughly opened their eyes to see him in the Breaking of Bread. He thoroughly opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. He taught them that the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms — the whole of the Scriptures — are about him, about his death and resurrection and glory. And so Jesus teaches us, as well, about how to read the Scriptures: we look for Jesus in them because they are about him. But we will not find Christ in them by literal interpretation; Christ did not give us literalism as an interpretive principle, but he gave us himself as the interpretation of the Scriptures.

As we consider how the apostles and New Testament authors treated the Old Testament Scriptures, we see that they did not read them literally. When Paul speaks of Sarah and Hagar (Galatians 4), he is not giving a literal interpretation. When he speaks of the children of Israel crossing the Red Sea (1 Corinthians 10), he is not giving a literal interpretation. Or when he speaks of the Rock in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:40). No, he speaks of them all very differently from what a literal interpretation of the corresponding Old Testament Scriptures would yield. By the literal method, we would never see that the crossing of the Red Sea is about baptism, or that the Rock followed them in the wilderness, and that this Rock is Christ. Paul understood what Christ taught both the disciples and the Jewish leaders, that what Moses wrote was about Christ. “These things happened to them as ensamples,” Paul tells us. The word for “ensample” is typos. Paul expressly identifies them for us as types, which indicates that their meaning is about something else — and that something else is Christ. A type is

In Hebrews 10:7, the author observes that what is said in Psalm 40:7 is about Jesus the Messiah. Then he quotes the passage: “Then I said, “Behold, I have come — in the volume of the book [scroll] it is written of me — to do your will, O God.” The “scroll” here is the scroll of the Law, that is, the Torah. The phrase “volume of the scroll” does not merely mean there are bits here and there in the scroll of the Law that are about Christ, but it indicates that the whole of the scroll, everything wrapped around the spindle post of the Scripture scroll, is about Jesus.

It was not only the New Testament authors who treated the Scriptures as being about Christ, but so did the early Church Fathers. St. Irenaeus, for example, wrote Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, in which he shows how the Apostles and the Fathers preached Christ. The stunning thing about it is that the early apostolic preaching about Christ was not from the New Testament Gospels or epistles but from the Old Testament Scriptures. The Fathers did not arrive at this by literal interpretation but by spiritual interpretation shaped by Christ and the gospel.

Another example is St. Gregory of Nyssa, in his Life of Moses. In this book, Gregory goes through the Moses narratives in the Torah and shows that they are about Christ, the gospel of Christ and the body of Christ.

But here is a counter-example: There was one early Church figure who interpreted the Old Testament Scriptures literally, and that was Marcion. Are you familiar with him? What Marcion saw by interpreting the Old Testament literally was a portrayal of God that is quite contradictory to the revelation of God given to us in Jesus Christ. What he saw by a literal interpretation was a petty, hateful deity not worthy of our worship — and indeed, such a deity found by literal interpretation is a moral monster, hateful and petty, and not worthy of worship. So, Marcion pitched out the Old Testament Scriptures altogether.

But the early Church Fathers did not do as Marcion did. They did not abandon the Scriptures, because they understood something very important about the Scriptures that Marcion did not: the Scriptures are about Christ, through and through. So any interpretation that did not align with the revelation of God in Jesus Christ was rejected.

In Luke 24, we learn that the Old Testament Scriptures are about Christ, and until we read them in a Christ-centered, cross-shaped way, our understanding has yet to be opened to them; they remain veiled to us. But when we learn to read them as testimony to Jesus Christ, the Cross and the Gospel, we will learn to understand them the way the New Testament authors and the early Church understood them.

Below are a couple of examples of what a Christ-centered, cross-shaped interpretation of the Scriptures might look like.

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