Today's reading from Isaiah, contains a promise:
"Then the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing. Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe. The burning sands will become pools, and the thirsty ground, springs of water."At first reading, this concerns the renewal of Israel after the Babylonian exile, but at other levels, it speaks to the Cross, the Resurrection, and the Promise of Salvation. Levels we can see when we learn to read with spiritual eyes using the four senses of Scripture.
Sacred tradition speaks of four "senses" with which to read Scripture—fruitful as long as we are grounded in prayerful reading with the Holy Spirit as guide (see CCC 115-118). The first sense is the Literal Sense, reading the words of scripture simply for the content in black and white on the page. It is important to note that a literal sense of the text does NOT necessarily mean reading the text literally. When we read Psalm 113 (114), for example, in which the Psalmist sings "The sea looked and fled, Jordan turned back. The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs" the Holy Spirit does not expect us to think the sea had literal eyes with which to see or that the mountains and hills became actual leaping rams and lambs.
The Church teaches us, then, the importance of reading the intent original of the author into the text—learned from careful study and exegesis—or as the Catechism states:
In order to discover the sacred authors’ intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking, and narrating then current. "For the fact is that truth is differently presented and expressed in the various types of historical writing, in prophetical and poetical texts, and in other forms of literary expression." (CCC 110)The literal sense may be metaphorical and should be read so. This is why atheist rejecting Christianity based on the creation account in Genesis as a literal story is ludicrous. The literary genre of Genesis is that of allegory or fable. That there are two differing accounts alone suggests that the author of Genesis did not mean for it to be read as literal truth, but that the literal sense holds metaphors concealing spiritual truths, revealed with the spiritual senses: the allegorical, the moral, and the anagogical.
The allegorical sense reveals Jesus as the heart of scripture so that every word in every book of the Bible speaks of Christ. The moral sense applies to our own lives, revealing the lessons of virtue that can be gained from the events and teachings. The anagogical sense, finally, looks to the eternal, revealing truths about the Church and eschatology.
It was in the allegorical sense in which I read the passage from Isaiah today. This is, in fact, how Jesus himself read Isaiah when he preached in the synagogue at Nazareth: "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (see Lk 4:16-21) Jesus takes this prophecy about an earthly king restoring Israel and applies it to himself as Messiah. Jesus did this repeatedly through his ministry, applying many Old Testament messianic passages to himself, but perhaps the starkest instance of this was his cry "My God, my god, why have you forsaken me?" upon the cross, revealing that the entirety of Psalm 21(22) has an allegorical sense revealing the Passion with the promise of the Resurrection. This is why Jesus' cry is not one of despair though it may seems so. Just as one has to read Scripture in its unity, one should read the entire Psalm into Jesus' cry.
In today's passage, Isaiah's prophetic vision of of streams bursting forth in the desert, caught my heart and revealed Jesus' presence when I read the text with the allegorical sense: did not a stream of water and blood burst forth from Christ's heart when the centurion's spear pierced his side (Jn 19:43)? This one image opens a flood of associations starting with Jesus body upon the cross being the Desert land of Israel. For what is the desert but a land bereft of life, just as a corpse is a body so bereft. The thirsty ground is the man who cries out "I thirst!" and is in turn the Living Water from the Rock, the Stream of Life. The restored Land of Israel is the Resurrected body of Christ of which we become part.
The promises that "the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; the lame [will] leap like a stag, the tongue of the mute will sing" speak not only to the restoration of the people of Israel from the Exile (literal sense) the individuals Jesus healed during his ministry, or the people of faith he restored by Baptism (anagogical sense), but also his own body (allegorical sense). A body that was blind and deaf and lame and mute in death.
As you can see reading in one spiritual sense can lead to all the spiritual senses being revealed. As I started in the allegorical sense, the image of the streams leading to the pierced side of Christ on the Cross, I was lead into the anagogical sense of salvation: the Resurrection of Christ's body, represented in the blossoming desert is also the renewal of our sinful natures into purified and holy sons and daughters of God. So what is revealed if we read with the moral sense? The passage helps us out here: "Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you." The Promise of the Resurrection should instill in us the virtue of courage or fortitude:
Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause. “The Lord is my strength and my song.”70 “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (CCC 1808)We can have such courage to face trials and persecutions because as we are Baptized into Christ's death—saved from the burning sands of sin by clear pools of salvation—so we also hope in the promises of rising into his Resurrection (Rm 6:4).
That is also the promise of today's Gospel when Jesus heals the deaf and mute man by crying out Ephatha! that is "Open!" And so we can read Christ's word of power in the anagogical sense: Jesus is commands not only the man to "Open!" his ears to hear and his mouth to speak (literal) our future, commanding our graves, "Ephatha!"—as the rock rolled from the tomb—"Ephatha!" and release my brethren forever from Death for they will be with me into Everlasting life. Amen.