Word for Word

by Fr. Jim Dubert

This Sunday, June 8, 2014, is Pentecost, the celebration of the beginning of the Church, as described in Acts 2, with the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said this coming of the Holy Spirit will guide the Church “into all truth” (John 16:13) because he wants to sanctify the Church in truth and that God’s Word is truth. (John 17:17)
Throughout the history of the Church, the Holy Spirit has undertaken this task of guiding and sanctifying the Church into all truth through deeper insights into God’s Word. For example, the Church, in its early centuries, was guided by the Holy Spirit to develop the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, three persons in one God, through deeper study of the scriptures.  
Today, this work of the Spirit continues, though few Christians are aware of these deeper insights into all truth.  In the Catholic Church, we believe the Holy Spirit continues to open the Church “to understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:45) as Jesus did to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. One way this happens is by understanding the “spiritual senses of scripture.” The early Church Fathers did this often during the first six centuries of the Church. They followed the example of Jesus in Matthew 13 by seeing “signs” or “types” in the text, events, and realities of the scripture.  Jesus sees the seeds as “the Word of the Kingdom” that fell on different soils in the parable of the sower and the seeds and then explains the parable to provide a deeper understanding of the Word’s fruitfulness in the Kingdom of God. (Matthew 13:18-23)
The examples of Jesus in his parables in Matthew 13 gave the early Church and today’s Church the permission to seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance into all truth through the ancient tradition of looking for the spiritual sense of a scripture passage.
One scripture passage in the Old Testament that Paul and others realized has a spiritual sense is Numbers 20:1-13, the story of the water and the rock. This event is foundational in the Old Testament, because it was a test by God, which Moses and Aaron failed, and denied them entry into the “promised land”. Many Christians see this test as overly harsh, but if you understand the spiritual sense, the deeper truth revealed helps us understand the judgment God made.
In this story, Moses is judged guilty when he “struck the rock with his rod twice and water came forth abundantly.” (Numbers 20:11)  The “assembly” had complained that there was no water to drink and wanted Moses and Aaron to “save” them from dying of thirst. God commands Moses to “tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water,” (Numbers 20:8) instead Moses strikes the rock twice to get the water.
The signs or types in the story include water, the rock, and the action of striking. Water symbolizes grace. From the moment “the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters,” (Genesis 1:2) water in scripture has symbolized the grace of the Holy Spirit. Jesus refers to this type for water in John 7:37-39. The rock symbolizes faith. Jesus calls Peter, “Rock” after Peter declared Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus says “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13-20) Thus, Peter’s faith in this heavenly revelation becomes the Rock on which the Church is built. Paul sees this “spiritual Rock” as Christ, who “in faith” Peter proclaimed Jesus was. (1 Corinthians 10:4) And finally, the type of the action of striking is easy; it symbolizes Moses’ works to bring out the saving water.
Paul understands the deeper truth of the story, a truth that is always coherent with the other truths of scripture and the Church, when he reveals its spiritual sense in Ephesians 2:8-9 by retelling this story’s deeper truth. To understand this, look at the Ephesians’ text with the types inserted as below:
“For by (water) grace you have been saved through (the rock) faith, and this is not your own doing, it is a gift of God – not because of (the action of striking) works, lest (Moses and Aaron) any man should boast.”
The Pauline doctrine of salvation by grace through faith, not works is the deeper truth the Holy Spirit revealed to Paul through his understanding the spiritual sense of the Numbers scripture passage. This should help us to understand the harshness of God’s judgment on Moses and Aaron.
This is just one example; many other deeper truths have been revealed to the Church Fathers and to the Church today by using these types and spiritual senses. As the Holy Spirit continues to reveal all truth to the Church, I ask each of you this Pentecost to open your heart to the Holy Spirit and allow God’s Word to come alive to you through these spiritual senses of the scripture.