Lectio Divina Between the First and the New Covenant

The Two Covenants – the Two Righteousness

If we gather together all Jesus’ teaching on the Pharisees in the Gospels and if we read the two letters of St Paul, to the Romans and to the Galatians, we find a wealth of information on the comparison between the First Covenant and the New One, that is, between Moses’ Law and Jesus’ Law.

St Paul explains that if we look at Moses’ Law and Jesus’ Gospel we find two different “salvation solutions” (or “ways of pleasing God”), or if you prefer two ways of understanding how to become “righteous in the eyes of God”: one fulfilling Moses’ Law through our own strength, and one believing in Jesus and therefore receiving from Him the Holy Spirit who enables us to put into practice God’s Law. The first covenant choice is to lean on the General Grace of God in order to achieve God’s will (keeping the 10 Commandments) and the New Covenant’s choice is to lean on  the Holy Spirit .“Lean on” means to use the General Help of the Grace of God in order to to ask for the Holy Spirit, to receive it and to depend on it; the Holy Spirit who alone is capable of changing us, guiding us, allowing therefore Jesus’s Words, day after day, to become incarnate in us; allowing Jesus to grow in us and become alive in us, so that finally, we attain the fullness of his stature. This Holy Spirit is obtained for us by Christ on the Cross.

It goes without saying that seen from Jesus’ point of view, the first way of behaving, i.e. the First Covenant understanding of righteousness and fulfilment of the Law, doesn’t really bring Salvation, i.e. real change, transformation and holiness.

It is important to notice that since the Gospel reveals the pharisee type of behaviour, this means that any christian could fall prey to this behaviour. It is not a “Jewish vs. Christian” comparison that the different authors of the New Testament are making (St Matthew, St John, St Paul). On the contrary it is a “Christian vs. Christian” comparison, comparing two ways of being Christian: one is a wrong one (the “pharisee” one) the other, brought to us by Jesus, being the correct one. Significantly, the behaviour of the Pharisee which the Gospel reveals to us, is in fact the behaviour of a Christian Pharisee.

It is important, as well, to notice that here we have two completely different modus operandi (modus collaborandi) of the human being with the Grace of God, two ways of understanding how the Grace of God works and therefore two ways of corresponding to its work in us. One understanding – rather closer to the First Covenant righteousness – has two aspects: one knows only the “General Grace of God” and the second causes it to deviate from its purpose by being forced to achieve something that it can’t: forcing it to fulfil Moses’ Law in its entirety, and the Law of Jesus. The second way of understanding – which is the proper way of interpreting the Salvation that Jesus is bringing – knows two ways of acting in the Grace of God: one is the General Grace of God and the second is the Direct and Personal Action of the Holy Spirit in the human being, an action that really enacts deep change, transformation and sanctification.

Jesus will prove the first position deeply wrong in the Sermon on the Mount (see Chapter 5 verses 21 through to 48 when He says 5 times: “you have heard”, .. “but I tell you”…), and St Paul in Romans and Galatians will also prove it to be wrong, when He speaks about the difference between the righteousness that comes from the practice of Moses’ Law and the one that comes from Receiving the Holy Spirit because of our new Faith in Jesus the Giver of the Holy Spirit. The first one resembles a man-made righteousness and the second one is a God-made one. Of course, the human being can’t reach God through his own strength, can’t transform himself deeply without the direct  personal intervention of the Holy Spirit. God himself is the one who enacts deep within us the change and transformation that makes us “please Him” (becoming righteous in His eyes). Only God can transform our heart of stone into a heart of flesh, only God can perform the real purification: “circumcision” meant “purification”. For the purification of the Heart, Baptism is necessary.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus will show us that the inner part of the human being, his heart, is not changed under the work of the “General Grace of God”. He says that He came to purify the inner part of the cup as well, the inner part of the human being, his heart. “You have heard [i.e. Moses’ Law] do not kill”, which could be fulfilled with the help of the General Grace of God. But “I am telling you: forgive, pray for your enemies…don’t get upset with them swearing against them”: this change of behaviour is going beyond the surface of human ethics, it is entering into the heart and source of human ethics. It can only be realised by the direct personal intervention of the Holy Spirit in us. The Holy Spirit is Jesus’ Gift for us on the Cross and through his Resurrection. Nobody else gives the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ Words are the sharp end of the Sword of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 6). Moses’ Words are not comparable. It is only when the Eternal Son of God becomes Incarnate that Moses’ Words become different, “christified” so to speak, capable of achieving what Jesus is bringing to us: the Action of the Holy Spirit. The Old Testament is renewed throughout this movement and we start to see in it Jesus himself as is clearly seen in Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 and in the general “typological exegesis” of the Fathers of the Church.

In conclusion we discover that we have two types of intervention by the Grace of God in us: one that is general, given to everybody, and one that is personal and direct, the one brought to us by the Passion Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Two Ways of the Action of the Grace of God in Lectio Divina

Now, the next observation can be voiced in the question: Don’t we have two ways of practising LD exactly as we have two ways of realising salvation as pointed out above?

Indeed… we have a “Moses way” (or “Pharisee way”) of practising Lectio Divina, leaning on the General Help of the Grace of God in order to achieve our “righteousness”, in order to please God, in order to listen to Him. This “Old Covenant” way of realising our righteousness through Lectio Divina means that we are still attached to the operation of LD, which means that it is all under our control, that we seize the Word of God instead of, more importantly, being seized/possessed by It. It is as if we were able to understand the Word of God by ourselves, and put it into practice by ourselves: exactly as one would do with Moses’ Law.

However, the dynamics of Jesus’ Teaching in the Sermon on the Mount are completely different: they clearly show us that what is at stake is not first and foremost the outer part of the plate or cup (our external behaviour), but that it is rather our heart which should be healed, our will which should follow Jesus’ Word and be seized by the Holy Spirit, changed, transformed. The Logic in itself of the Work of the Holy Spirit is new, totally new, radically new: it enters into an area that is normally abandoned (i.e. our heart), neglected by Moses’ Law, not under its reach, and certainly not under its capacity to save: our heart can’t be transformed. In one word: Moses’ Law cannot change the heart of the human being. It often indicates exterior elements of the Eternal Law of God… but can’t go further… in-depth.

The dynamics of Lectio Divina are totally different from “doing it by ourselves”. Lectio Divina presupposes that we surrender completely to Christ, knowing that He, first and foremost, is the Doctor and the Doctor of the Heart. That He can change us, transform us, and that we cannot do so through our own industry/art/capacity. That His Word is the sharp tool in the hands of the Holy Spirit, to allow Him (the Holy Spirit) to enter deeply within us, to the junction between the soul and the spirit: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). This, Moses’ Law cannot achieve. It can’t enter this region, it can’t illuminate it, and it can’t operate within it!

As we can see here (and infinitely more could be said in this regard), we can easily understand that there are two ways of practising Lectio Divina: one that belongs to the First Covenant, the Old Testament, Moses’ Law, that belongs to the Pharisee way of seeing and acting, and one that functions according to the Presence of the Risen Lord in the silence of our own homes, talking to us by the Power of the Holy Spirit, capable of entering deeply within us, reaching at last the junction between the soul and the spirit. Nobody can do this work, nobody knows us that well, nobody knows us better than we know ourselves. Nobody is capable of bringing light to this region and of changing us.

Description with Diagrams

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