Wednesday, April 01, 2009

On the Multiple Senses of Scripture

When reading yesterday's readings, I was struck that it was so apropos with respect to Pr. Lehmann's and my discussion in the combox below on the senses of Scripture. It also ties in somewhat with the post I have just done on the Lectionary.

The Old Testament reading from Numbers retells the story of the Bronze Seraph, the serpent that was held aloft and any who looked upon it was healed. Wis 16:5-7 dwells on the theological implications of this, in that it affirms that the Seraph didn't do the healing, but God did. It is a condign merit, in that God promises a reward for doing some act and keeps His promise. The people didn't deserve the Seraph or the healing. The pericope makes clear they grumbled. But God promised them gratuitously that if they looked upon it, they would be healed. Thus the people didn't merit the healing, per se, but instead were granted the healing because God fulfills His promises. That's the sort of literal take anyway, with apologies for the slight digression/explication.

But it is clear both implicitly in the Gospel for the day, and more explicitly in Jn 3:14 that Christ saw this action as being a prefigurement of the Crucifixion. In this sense the holding up of the Seraph has much wider meaning for us. It is the same with the Red Heifer and Isaac's Sacrifice, as well as others. All these point to Christ in some way, and especially the saving Cross.

But we might not appreciate this aspect of the story from Numbers, if the Church didn't bid us take note of it in the Lectionary and then also juxtapose it with Christ's own commentary? This is also, therefore, one of the benefits of the Lectionary. That we can appreciate other aspects and senses that might not be immediately apparent when we only read passages independently of one another ...


Pr. Lehmann said...

Meant to ask this yesterday.

The terminology "Bronze Seraph" is unfamiliar to me. Where do you get it from?

Ogden Chichester said...

It's an old word for snake, and thus old, old books refer to it as the Brazen or Bronze Seraph. Numbers refers to the snakes that were sent against the Israelites as "seraph-snakes." The KJV and Douay both translate it as "fiery" presumably because Jerome translated it as "ignitos."

Ogden Chichester said...

I hope this link works. Here's an example of just such an old book: Link