MAY 9, 2004, 5TH SUNDAY OF EASTER : HOMILY LUKE 24: 35
(HOMILY GIVEN ON 15 APRIL, POSTED FROM KOREA ON MAY 9TH)
THESE ARE THE THINGS I TOLD YOU ABOUT WHEN I WAS STILL WITH YOU, THINGS THAT ARE WRITTEN IN THE LAW OF MOSES AND THE PROPHETS AND THE PSALMS CONCERNING ME. Jesus with these words gave the key to the proper way to understand the Hebrew Scriptures in all three of its parts, the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. The Lord had been teaching his apostles throughout his ministry the way to live in order to be fitting citizens in the kingdom of God. In his discussions he regularly referred to the sacred Hebrew text and indicated the way in which he was fulfilling it. He stressed the fact that in doing so he was but putting into words and practice the plan of the Father who sent him. He obviously had devoted a great deal of his time and energy to the careful study of the words in which God had made himself known to his chosen people. When tempted in the desert, he spontaneously recalled, word by word, appropriate texts from the Torah directed against the several kinds of suggestion to which he was subjected. When questioned concerning his identity he chose a passage from the Prophet Isaiah to clarify for John the Baptist his own person as the Messiah predicted by the prophet. The night before he died, he prayed the traditional Psalms for the Paschal feast with the apostles. Thus he was familiar with all three of the constitutive parts of the Scripture and made use of them in practical ways.
Yet even these select disciples had proved unable to recognize the key that opened to the way properly to understand the full and true sense of these writings. So now, upon appearing to them after he rose from the dead, glorified, already belonging to another world where the light of the Spirit gives life and understanding, he explains to them that he himself is the only key that unlocks the hidden, all important sense of the Scriptures. Now his message was heard with understanding. His disciples never forgot the lesson he gave them in how to read the Scriptures. For, as we observe in the case of the two disciples at Emmaus, when he interpreted Moses and all the prophets for them, not only did they grasp the previously hidden meaning of the text, but their “heart burned within them” for he communicated his presence to them in his explanatory words.
The early Fathers of the Church and their successors learned this lesson well and made it a principle of their reading and interpreting of the Scriptures. One of their number formulated this doctrine in a concise verse easy to remember in its original Latin: Novum in vetere latet; vetus in novo patet. (The New lies hidden in the Old; the Old is opened up in the New.) The New revealed now in the Old as well as in the New Testament is the Risen Lord Jesus. The Scriptures, ever since the Easter evening when the glorified Savior opened up the true meaning of the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms, his faithful disciples read the inspired word in the conviction that he, the Risen Lord, continued to explain the text to the one who reads with faith.
Of course, there have been periods when this principle was all but forgotten; at a time when strict critical principles were applied to the Bible as to other historically conditioned texts, it was considered in applicable and in practice suppressed by most respected scholars. More recently, however, the limits of such a reading of the Sacred Writings and new insights into the relation of text and reader have changed that situation in the academic world. For the work of post-modern interpreters of literary texts in general has shown that the meaning of any given text depends not only on the original intent of the author but also on the mind and attitude of the reader. Now scholars, such as Elizabeth Clark speak of “the creativity of the readers and commentators in producing new meaning for earlier writings” (‘Reading Renunciation’, 5).
By bringing faith and loving desire to bear on our reading and meditation of the Scriptures, like the early disciples, we too can be ‘taught of God’ as we confront the revealed word. Jesus used this expression, ‘taught of God’, from the prophet Isaiah when he called for faith in himself as the living bread that confers eternal life on those who approach him in faith. Origen, the great exegete of the Church of the martyrs, repeatedly speaks of explaining of Scripture as ‘the breaking of bread’. Jesus himself in this same discourse went on to make this same association with his word and the Eucharist saying: ‘The words that I speak to you are spirit and life.’ May each of us discover by experience that he continues to live in his words as well as in the Eucharist, and that he comes to us in our reading and hearing of the word as well as in this sacrament to bestow on us the Spirit and the pledge of life everlasting. &
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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