Scripture is all about connections
One of the most important aspects of Sacred Scripture is the uncanny ability of the far older texts of the Old Testament to point to Our Lord and His salvific mission as recounted in the New Testament. When we consider that the books of the Old Testament were drafted between a hundred and a thousand years before the books of the New, this correspondence is remarkable. Moreover, given the somewhat eclectic authorship of all of these books, it is impossible to believe that the New Testament is merely a fable deliberately framed to give credence to Old Testament prophecies—most of which were either unrecognized or applied very differently prior to the advent of Jesus Christ.
This is why a fruitful reading of Scripture is all about making connections among the various texts. When we read backwards in the light of Christ, the effect is stunning. Prophetic patterns are already enormously engaging in mere works of fiction, as when a single author creates an epic hero who has been somehow foretold of old, and who is in some sense the bearer of a promise. But when we find patterns not only in ancient words but in ancient events which suddenly acquire deeper and more precise meaning—a meaning that shifts from expectation and yearning to fulfillment and joy—then we ought to recognize the Master Storyteller, the brilliant Author who writes prophecy into history itself, in ways that He alone can bring to fullness and completion.
Most of us are familiar with what we call the “prophecy in action” of the Old Testament. The most obvious case is Moses as a “type” of Christ. Under the leadership of Moses, the Israelites are rescued from bondage to Egypt. But their joy appears to be transitory, as they fall into one crisis after another. It becomes increasingly difficult to cling to Moses as anything more than a distant memory—until we realize that this ancient longing for freedom and joy becomes not just a memory but a living reality, when Our Lord rescues us from bondage to sin.
Most of us are also aware of key prophetic utterances, in which words written down in the Old Testament books have both an immediate meaning in their own time and a more exalted meaning when applied to the life of Christ and the Church. Thus:
- Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
- Isaiah 61:1-2: “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim a year of favor from the LORD.”
- Psalm 22:6-7: “But I am a worm, and no man; scorned by men, and despised by the people. All who see me mock at me, they make mouths at me, they wag their heads; ‘He committed his cause to the LORD; let him deliver him, let him rescue him, for he delights in him!’”
- Ezekiel 34:15: “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD.”
- Micah 5:2: “But you, O Bethlehem Eph’rathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.”
There are intimations of Christ, more or less specific and obvious, throughout the Old Testament. (Jews for Jesus, for example, have compiled the Top 40 Most Helpful Messianic Prophecies, an effort which only scratches the surface of the deep foreshadowings of the New Covenant in the Old.)
For some years the bulk of my personal spiritual reading has been in the books of the Bible. Regular readers will notice that I not infrequently drop in Scriptural citations here and there in my writings, particularly near the end, and sometimes for the (semi-ignoble) reason of ending with a rhetorical flourish. Following the example of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, along with so many saints, most of us want to understand Scripture ever more deeply. With each reading, we make more spiritually fruitful connections. Increasing familiarity with the Word of God is essential to this task, for a better understanding of a particular passage most often grows from that passage’s consideration in light of many others which we hold, if only imperfectly, in our memories.
Over the past week or two, I decided to try a new technique in this spiritual reading—a technique deliberately designed to maximize the possibility of making new connections between the sacred text, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and the Person of Christ. Let me say at the outset that this is definitely an arbitrary technique. It can hardly be recommended as a way to read Scripture for the first time, or even as a normal way to read it regularly. It is, as I said, simply a technique—and one I wanted to try to see what came of it.
Taking up again the Gospel according to John—which is not only the last but the most theologically-developed of all the gospels, and in some ways more obscure than the crisp narratives of Matthew, Mark and Luke—taking up John’s Gospel, then, I decided to read it in tandem with the very first book of the Bible, Genesis. The narrative of Genesis is also obscure, in its own way, for it deals with Creation (which no writer has witnessed) and uses a variety of very ancient forms. My technique would be to read and meditate each evening on a chapter of Genesis along with the corresponding chapter in John’s gospel, starting at the beginning.
I was actually surprised by the correspondence of several themes in the early chapters (I mean before the technique began to break down, since Scripture was not composed with any such approach in mind). But consider these connections, numbered according to the chapters themselves:
- Genesis gives the first account of Creation, beginning with the Spirit moving over the face of the waters. John’s gospel opens thus: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”
- Genesis offers a second and more general account of creation which culminates in the creation of Eve as a suitable companion for Adam. Therefore, we learn, “a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become two in one flesh.” And what is St. John up to in his second chapter? You guessed it, the beginning of Our Lord’s public ministry—the miracle of the marriage at Cana.
- Next Genesis introduces Satan and recounts the Fall of Adam and Eve. The text includes the first prophecy from the brief list I provided earlier, foretelling how the offspring of the woman will crush the serpent’s head. Meanwhile, John describes Our Lord’s meeting with Nicodemus, in which Jesus explains what it means to be born again, and that the Son must be lifted up, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.”
- In the fourth chapter, Genesis recounts Cain’s murder of Abel and the beginnings of what we might call all the deceits and transgressions involved in human “civilization”. At the same time (speaking comparatively of the two chapters), we find Our Lord asking the Samaritan woman to call her husband, revealing another form of highly-sophisticated sinfulness, and offering her living water instead.
- In the next few chapters, Genesis introduces Noah (another type of Christ), the righteous man who is to survive the Flood and ensure the continuation of the human race. And in the corresponding chapters of John, Our Lord progressively reveals his true identity by working many signs—by which he begins to reveal how He, like Noah, will ensure the continuation of the human race.
After this, the nature of the chapters diverges enough to thwart my effort to prove that I, and I alone, have at last discovered the key to Scripture. Alas, it is not true that if we simply read the first chapter of Genesis along with the first chapter of every other book—and so on—we can possess the secret knowledge that God imparts only to his special favorites. But I am pretty sure you will agree that Scripture is all about connections—all the connections which reveal Our Lord and Savior to us, so that we can know Him better and love Him more.
Next: Called and gifted for glory: An unlikely lesson from Exodus?
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