The Opening of the Mind (Luke 24)
“Jesus said to them, “These are the words I spoke to 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 their minds to understand the Scriptures. And He told them, “This is what is written…” (Luke 24:44-46)
A few years ago I took a course in “Bible and Spiritual Life” at The School of Mary. Here we were taught how the Holy Spirit directs the minds and hearts of the authors of Scripture and so speaks to us through the very words of the Bible. In Theology this is called the Theory of Divine Inspiration. These authors were open to the wisdom of God, opened their hearts to God, their minds and wills to the Holy Spirit, and so enabled God to speak to us through them because, when completing their writings, they became true instruments of the Holy Spirit.
As it says in John 6:63 “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” We can also read these word as: these words are Holy Spirit and Divine Life. Our teacher showed us how the words of Scripture are like pieces of fruit complete with their out layer of skin, i.e. providing the normal literal meaning of the word and reflecting our human understanding of the word. By contrast, the flesh of the fruit provided the deeper spiritual meaning hidden inside the word. This inner spiritual meaning is only accessible to us with the help of the Holy Spirit. He explained how the words of Scripture are always pointing us to the Truth, to Christ, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.
He then read us a passage of Scripture which illustrates this most poignantly, Isaiah 52:13-53:12:
“See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him— his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness— so he will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand. Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After he has suffered, he will see the light of life[g] and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”
I had probably heard this passage many times before, as it is read yearly in the Holy Week liturgy. That day I think I received a special grace while listening to the aforementioned passage of Isaiah. The words themselves seemed to come literally alive before my eyes. I cannot do the experience justice, but the words became flesh, became Jesus before me – to my inner eye, that eye of faith we are given at Baptism. It was as if I could suddenly see beyond the words written in front of me in ink on the page and could see into a reality, a much deeper and truer reality contained within these words. The hidden flesh hidden deep within the fruit.
Of course, I marvelled at this experience – here was a text written hundreds of years before the crucifixion and yet it was describing the very experience of Jesus on the cross. Not only the physical experience, but even what He was achieving for us in his soul, during this time, on a much deeper level. How is this possible if not by prophecy, written by an author open to and inspired by the Holy Spirit, by God Himself?!
My curiosity was picqued to say the least as I discovered that this was the way a baptised Christian should be able to read Scripture. This is how the Fathers of the Church read Scripture, it is how the saints read Scripture, it is the whole purpose of Scripture. Finding Jesus in the Old Testament is supposed to be normal, as Tradition says: the New Testament is hidden in the New. However, it is in Baptism that the Holy Spirit opens our minds and hearts, so that we can hear and see Jesus in all the Scriptures. Hence the « Ephphata » rite during Baptism. We are all given this grace to see. To see Christ, to discover Him fully through the words of the Bible. He is the Word and He comes to us through words – the words in the Bible. Over and over He tells us to listen to Him – this is the place where we should follow his advice.
To learn more about what I had experienced I read the book “Essential Expositions of the Psalms” by St. Augustine. Here is a saint who through his homilies tries to teach the congregation, listening to him in the 4th-5th centuries, what the words of Scripture in the Mass may mean on a particular day.
Reading his homilies is like being present with him on that day. Whilst listening to St. Augustine explaining the Scriptures, a veil is lifted in front of one’s eyes as he explains sentence by sentence what he sees in front of him. He constantly invokes the Holy Spirit to come and help him, asking the congregation to pray to the Holy Spirit with him, knowing that without Him he will remain fixed only on the human superficial level of and understanding of the words. He is humble and knows that by his own efforts he will be unable to see the deeper meaning. He trusts that he has been given the grace to see because of his Baptism, because of his faith. And so he peels away the human literal meaning of the psalm and shows us where Christ dwells, cajoling the Truths out of the words, searching with the people and speaking directly to them. He makes the words relevant to each and every one present. He distinguishes even between those who may be farther along on their journey towards Christ and who would perhaps undergo a more direct experience, with those for whom it is still quite difficult, accepting that spiritual food is given to all.
One senses his own hunger for this spiritual food that truly transforms and nourishes and the gentle but adamant way he adopts to impart it to those listening to him.
Whilst he is going through every psalm you start to see yourself, you actually start to slowly see what he is seeing, to be in wonder at all the riches these poor words contain. In the beginning it sometimes feels a little farfetched, sometimes a little forced, but as you persevere you cannot deny that there is a treasure buried there just waiting to be discovered. The reading of this book opened a new world of possibilities for me. A veil covers the words of Scripture (Re the veil, see 2 Cor. 3:9-18) but it can be lifted off by our desire and efforts to see! It is a great gift we have been given but we must unpack the gift, learn about it and put it into practice by sitting down and asking the Holy Spirit to lead us.
Council Vatican II: “Dei Verbum”, 16
“God, the inspirer and author of both Testaments, wisely arranged that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest in the New. (2) For, though Christ established the new covenant in His blood (see Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25), still the books of the Old Testament with all their parts, caught up into the proclamation of the Gospel, (3) acquire and show forth their full meaning in the New Testament (see Matt. 5:17; Luke 24:27; Rom. 16:25-26; 2 Cor. 14:16) and in turn shed light on it and explain it.”
(2) St. Augustine, “Quest. in Hept.” 2,73: PL 34,623.
(3) St. Irenaeus, “Against Heretics” III, 21,3: PG 7,950; (Same as 25,1: Harvey 2, p. 115). St. Cyril of Jerusalem, “Catech.” 4,35; PG 33,497. Theodore of Mopsuestia, “In Soph.” 1,4-6: PG 66, 452D-453A.