he opened their minds to understand the scriptures

(Fr. Cyprian)

This is the most amazing line: He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. We hear in two stories in a row in the Gospel of Luke (Lk 24:13-48) at Mass, the disciples on the road to Emmaus and then the following scene where Jesus appears to his disciples in the upper room, and explains how everything written in Moses and the prophets and the psalms is written about him, about the Messiah. This was a whole new thing for them, we may not realize, to associate the Messiah with suffering and death. “Pre-Christian Judaism including the disciples during Jesus’ lifetime, never envisaged the death of the Messiah,” and so they obviously never thought of his resurrection.[1] So the death and resurrection puts everything behind it in a new perspective. As we say so often about Mark’s Gospel, that the disciples were not going to understand Jesus’ words until he suffered, died and rose again, so even more the texts we hear now during the Easter season, especially a reading like this from the Acts of the Apostles,[2] could almost be seen as mystagogical texts, the apostles themselves looking back on Scripture from the optic of Easter, but also looking ahead to the universal restoration which God spoke of through the holy prophets from of old.

And of course this is where we inherit our Christological reading of the Hebrew Scriptures; we do it just as the first disciples did. The patristic and monastic writers spoke of hearing––or at least listening for––the voice of Christ in the psalms, for example. They thought that the psalms were either speaking about Christ or addressing Christ, or else that the words of the psalms were Christ addressing the Father or the people. We hear Psalm 16 so often in this season, a good example of how this makes all new sense looking back on the resurrection: You will not leave my soul among the dead, nor let your beloved know decay’! I especially have that sense during our “black vigils” on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, imagining the words of the psalms that we recite on the lips of Jesus tied up in a prison cell or whatever kind of consciousness there was in the darkness of the tomb, and they come alive to me in a whole new way. During the octave we always hear the Song of Songs at Vigils, and I am always so moved imagining those wrods as jesus’ won words addressed to the individual soul: ‘Arise, my beloved one… the winter is past, the flowers appear on the earth.’ One of the lesser known texts that I also love at Easter time is the canticle from Isaiah 63, which we also say at Vigils: Who is this coming up from Edom, in crimson garments from Bozrah­­—glorious is he in his raiment, marching in greatness, marvelous in his strength. ‘It is I announcing justice with power to save!’

He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. But the problem is when you start seeing Christ anywhere it can happen that you see Christ everywhere. When we talk about a theology of fulfillment in inter-religious dialogue, we think that anytime there is something good, true and holy in a sacred text of another tradition too, that that is not only pre-Christian, as Jacques Dupuis taught, but they are pro-Christian, pointing to Christ. At some point our minds are opened to understand other scriptures too, and see that they too are pointing to Christ. I sing a song that has verses from the Bhagavad Gita in it, for example, and the explanation I give in concert about why a Christian could sing verses from the Bhagavad Gita is, “When I hear these words, ‘I am the taste of living water, and the light of the sun and the moon, I am OM the sacred word, the sound in the silence,’ I don’t hear them on the lips of Lord Krishna; I easily hear them on the lips of Christ.” And of course in other poetry and literature as well. We just finished a seminar on T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets,” and Christ is leaping off the page of them. But also the poets that Fr. Bruno introduced us to with a kind of evangelical fervor, like Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams. I tease our Fr. Robert about this, but I have to say I admire the fact that he sees Christ whenever he sees redemption in films. Maybe a little too often (we argue about this…) but still… may Christ open our minds to see how everything true and good and holy is pointing to Christ. The apocryphal gospel of Thomas has Jesus saying Raise the stone and you shall find me; cleave the wood and I am there. And Saint Anthony tells the philosophers, “My book, O philosophers, is the book of nature!” Maybe we’ll see him when we hike the backwoods of our property.

With the emphasis that we monks place on our lectio divina, the essential place of abiding with the Word, this seems to be as good a description as any of the telos–the ultimate goal for the monk, too, that God in Jesus would open our minds to understand the inner meaning of the Scriptures. The Scriptures are not just an historical text to us, not just an excuse for erudition and knowledge. They are a personal encounter with God in Christ himself, with the Word made flesh. It might not take a lot of Scripture, maybe only a verse, like the breaking of a twig in the woods can bring about sudden enlightenment. One can’t help but think of Romuald reading the words from Psalm 32(:8)––I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will give you counsel with my eye upon you––and suddenly the meaning of all of Scripture is open to him.

I remember a Buddhist friend of mine who used to refer to his zafu as a “rock” that he had to sit on in meditation, saying to me once, “And I’m gonna sit here on this rock until I crack through all illusions.” And there’s a saying in AA, “Stick around until the miracle happens!” I picture us all hunched over Sacred Scripture at our desks in our cells at 4 AM or 10 AM or 8 at night with that same attitude––I’m gonna sit here murmuring these words until God opens my mind to understand the meaning of the Scriptures, I’m gonna sit here and stare at this page until Christ’s face reveals itself, I am going to sing this psalm until I hear it in the voice of Jesus. May God grant us the perseverance––and maybe a glimpse or two along the way, especially during this Eastertide––to sit on the rock which is Christ, to stay with it until the miracle happens, to long for and expect God to open our minds to understand the Scriptures––and then see Christ everywhere. Raise the stone and you shall find me; cleave the wood and I am there.


[1] NT Wright, Surprised by Hope, 130.

[2] Acts 3:11-26

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