"The Spiritual Senses of Sacred Scripture"

Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time,

27 September 2020

“…Are not my ways right, O house of Israel, and are not rather your ways perverse?” Ez. 18:29

In today’s scriptures, we are given the importance of the spiritual senses of the allegorical (the representation of spiritual meaning in the life of Jesus Christ), tropological (moral interpretation) and anagogical (interpretation in relation to eternal life) in interpreting Sacred Scripture with faith. By comparing the various scriptures with what our faith teaches, we can see the great depth of meaning and truth that the Sacred Scriptures give us. The Gospel Parable of the Two Sons (Mt. 21:28-32), on the literal level, is about two sons who are asked to work in their father’s field. The first son refuses at first, but then repents; the second son obeys willingly at first, but then refuses to go to work in the field. Which of the sons did the father’s will, asked Jesus? All agreed that the son who went to work in the field did the father’s will. Yet he was the one who at first refused the father. On this literal level, it shows that sometimes people are reluctant to do things, but then, in time, they are obedient and cooperative. Like all of Our Lord’s parables, the Parable of the Two Sons has many spiritual meanings. The key to these spiritual meanings, in the light of faith and the scriptures, can be seen in the first two readings, from Ezechiel (Ez. 18:24-28) and St Paul (Phil. 2:1-11 & 2:1-5): Ezechiel points out that God’s ways are right, and not perverse like the House of Israel; St Paul tells us that we must be like Christ, who, being God, humbled Himself as a man and died for our sins.

The Allegory of Salvation History

The first spiritual meaning is the allegorical, which relates to Jesus’ Incarnation as the Son of God, and His importance in salvation history. The Gospel shows how Jesus condemns the Jews (the House of Israel) for not believing in Him as God: “Amen I say to you, that the publicans and the harlots shall go into the kingdom of God before you.” (Mt 21:31) These publicans and harlots are like the first son who refused to work in the field, but then repented. They disobeyed the laws of God at first, but then repented with the teaching of John the Baptist and Jesus. Ezechiel spells out the two roles in the First Reading when he tells us, “For when the just turneth himself away from his justice, and committeth iniquity, he shall die therein: in the injustice that he hath wrought he shall die. And when the wicked turneth himself away from his wickedness, which he hath wrought, and doeth judgment, and justice: he shall save his soul alive.” (Ez 18:26-27) The just man who did not repent will die, and the wicked man who repented shall live. This is exactly the fate of the House of Israel, the Jews who denied Jesus Christ’s Incarnation. They did not repent, although they at first promised God that they would obey His law and His prophets, who foretold of the Messiah (Jesus Christ) who would come and die for souls on the Cross. The publicans and harlots disobeyed the law of God, but then they believed in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and repented.

The Moral Order - Humility

The tropological is a second spiritual meaning, which relates to the moral order in our relationship with God and His Commandments. Like the Jews, there are self-righteous men who think they do nothing wrong, although they have promised to be good Christians. They think that they will be saved because they have accepted Jesus and are baptised. But they live wicked lives and do not repent. The sinners who have disobeyed God with wicked lives, like the publicans and harlots, know that they are sinners and humble themselves for their sins. They have the same disposition as Jesus; as St Paul writes, “He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.” (Phil 2:8) This moral imperative, as seen in Jesus’ humility and obedience, is what is expected of all who truly believe in and follow Jesus Christ.

Final End Man in Eternity

The third spiritual interpretation of today’s scriptures – the mystical, or anagogical – is related the final end of mankind, is in the light of eternity. The publicans and harlots are entering the Kingdom of Heaven before the Jews: “Amen I say to you, that the publicans and the harlots shall go into the kingdom of God before you.” (Mt 21:31) They are assured of their eternal salvation because they have repented of their sins. Those who are self-righteous and proud, like the Pharisees, believe that they will be saved because they are the Chosen People of God. This happens to some Catholics too! Because they have the true faith and were baptised, they think that this is enough to assure them of salvation! St Paul praises Jesus’ humble submission as the reason for His glory before His Father: “For which cause God also hath exalted him, and hath given him a name which is above all names: That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth.” (Phil 2:9-10) All those who follow Jesus in His humility will also be glorified and exalted in heaven for all eternity.

Scripture in the Light of Faith

Today’s readings show the deep spiritual sense of the scriptures in the light of faith. All scripture is the Word of God and is inspired by the Holy Ghost. The truths of faith, therefore, complement and relate to each other. From the simple account of the Parable of the Two Sons, we are enriched with the spiritual (allegorical, tropological and anagogical) truths of salvation history.

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