It’s well known that the New Testament writers (re-)read their Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament) with Jesus-tinted-glasses. Â Their world had been turned upside down after the events of the Gospel – particularly the Resurrection of Jesus, which they didn’t see coming – and when they returned to their familiar Scriptures, they saw Christ all over the place, both in the whole general trajectory, andÂ in particular passages. Â For example, how could one not see him in Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 53?). Â Christological readings of the Old Testament continued in the writings of the Early Church Fathers and on throughout Church History.
So, I was reading Genesis for a sermon on Jacob, and found verse 8 of chapter 29 to Â jump out to me as being rich for New Testament reflection. Â Jacob has arrived in the area of Laban, at the shepherd’s well, and upon asking them to water the sheep, they reply:
But they said, “We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together,Â and they have rolled the stone from the wellâ€™s mouth; then we water the sheep.â€
Anyone familiar with the New Testament will be able to see at least the three things I saw:
- The gathering of the flocks represents the gathering of the nations (or the elect) from the four winds (ends of the earth).
- I hope the NT meaning of rolling the stone away is self-explanatory!
- The watering of the sheep represents the ministry of Jesus through church leaders as those with the vocation of Peter feed Jesus’ lambs.
Now, eager to see if I was the first to spot this, I discovered this much fuller treatment of it by Gregory of Nyssa, in his “Sermon for the Day of Lights”:
JacobÂ also, hastening toÂ seekÂ aÂ bride, metÂ RachelÂ unexpectedly at the well. And a greatstoneÂ lay upon the well, which a multitude ofÂ shepherdsÂ were wont toÂ rollÂ away when they came together, and then gaveÂ waterÂ to themselves and to theirÂ flocks. ButÂ JacobÂ aloneÂ rollsÂ away theÂ stone, and waters theÂ flocksÂ of his spouse.
The thing is, I think, aÂ darkÂ saying, aÂ shadowÂ of what should come. For what is theÂ stoneÂ that is laid butÂ ChristÂ Himself? for of Him Isaiah says, â€œAnd I will lay in theÂ foundationsÂ ofÂ SionÂ a costlyÂ stone, precious,Â electâ€ and Daniel likewise, â€œAÂ stoneÂ wasÂ cutÂ out withoutÂ handsâ€ that is,Â ChristÂ wasÂ bornÂ without a man. For as it is a new and marvellous thing that aÂ stoneÂ should beÂ cutÂ out of theÂ rockÂ without a hewer orÂ stone-cutting tools, so it is a thing beyond all wonder that anÂ offspringÂ should appear from an unweddedÂ Virgin. There was lying, then, upon the well theÂ spiritualÂ stone,Â Christ, concealing in theÂ deepÂ and inÂ mysteryÂ the layer ofÂ regenerationÂ which needed much timeâ€”as it were a longÂ ropeâ€”to bring it toÂ light. And none rolled away theÂ stoneÂ saveÂ Israel, who isÂ mindÂ seeingÂ God. But he both draws up theÂ waterÂ and gives drink to theÂ sheepÂ ofÂ Rachel; that is, he reveals the hiddenÂ mystery, and gives livingÂ waterÂ to theÂ flockÂ of theÂ Church.