8th/9th August 2020

posted 11 Aug 2020, 05:23 by Parish Office

Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (8 & 9/8/20)

With all the disruption caused by the pandemic, various things have fallen by the wayside or been forgotten about.  How many people remember that we began this liturgical year with a Year of the Word?  So today, I want to say a bit about how we interpret the Bible, and some of the riches that are hidden inside.

Just like certain types of cake, there are different layers with regard to how we interpret a passage from Scripture.  If you want the technical terms, they are the literal sense and the spiritual sense, and the spiritual sense can be sub-divided into three: the allegorical, the moral and the anagogical sense.  All nice and technical, and you’ve probably forgotten the words already.

First, the literal sense.  As the name suggests, it’s the literal meaning of the text.  So, for example, in the Gospel, we read that Christ walked on the water, and called Peter to do the same.  That is what literally happened.  Or in the first reading, the literal sense of the text is what Elijah experienced when he reached Horeb.  This is perhaps the most straightforward interpretation of Scripture.

Next comes the spiritual sense, which, as I said, is sub-divided.

First, the allegorical sense.  The word “allegorical” is related to the word “allegory”, [pronounced “alla-gu-ry”] a story that has a meaning behind it.  If we talk about the allegorical meaning of Scripture, we’re not saying that the Bible is just a nice made-up fairy tale.  Rather, what we’re saying is that the events in the Bible and the things it speaks about point towards Christ.  So in the first reading, when Elijah goes to the cave to encounter God, it points towards Christ taking time to pray with the Father in the Holy Spirit, which we heard about at the beginning of the Gospel today.  When we read about Moses lifting up the bronze serpent in the desert, and all who looked at it were cured, it points towards Christ lifted high on the Cross, and all who look to Him are saved from sin.  When we read about Noah’s ark and the Flood, it reminds us of the Church as the Ark of Salvation, saving us from the waters of sin and chaos in the world.  Thinking of today’s Gospel, when Christ called to Peter, and when they both got into the boat and the wind dropped, it might have reminded them of parts of Psalm 28 (29), which goes like this:

“The Lord’s voice resounding on the waters,

the Lord on the immensity of waters;

the voice of the Lord, full of power,

the voice of the Lord full of splendour.

“The Lord sat enthroned over the flood;

the Lord sits as king for ever” (vs 3-4, 10).

Hence why they then bowed down before him and said, “Truly, you are the Son of God”.  They had prayed that psalm many times in their lives, and what Christ did revealed to them the He is God, in control of everything.

So that’s the allegorical sense – certain events, especially in the Old Testament, pointing towards Christ and the Church.

Next comes the moral sense.  Morals is all about right and wrong, and doing what’s right and avoiding what’s wrong.  So what is the moral of today’s Gospel?  We can draw a few morals from it.  Firstly, if prayer was important for Christ, and He made time for prayer, then we should do the same.  Secondly, Peter initially trusted in Christ and was able to walk on the water, but then he faltered.  We need to put our full trust in Christ and when things get difficult, trust that He will carry us through, rather than falter and give up.

Lastly, the anagogical sense.  “Anagogical” is a good scrabble word, derived from the Greek word anagōgē”, meaning “leading”.  The anagogical sense leads us towards the future, our heavenly homeland and the return of Christ.  So an anagogical interpretation of the Gospel would go like this:  the boat represents the Church at the present time ploughing through the waves, under attack by evil.  Christ is not in the boat, and some are worrying about the state of the Church and what will happen next.  But Christ will return at the end of the night, that is to say, the end of time.  Then He will put all things right, vindicate the Church and bring joy to those who persevered in His service.

So that’s a few of the ways we can interpret Scripture:  the literal and the spiritual senses, with the spiritual sense sub-divided into the allegorical, the moral and the anagogical sense – what it prophesies about Christ and the Church, how we should live, and what it says about Christ’s return.  And if the interpretation of Scripture is like a layered cake, then something else also applies – you can’t eat it all at once.  Eat what you can each time, and keep on returning for more.  But, unlike eating cake, do return regularly, otherwise you’ll get truth decay.

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