HE GOSPEL OF Luke tells of the post-resurrection encounter between Jesus and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus when, "beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them all the things about himself in all the Scriptures".
Later Jesus appeared to his disciples and reminded them that "everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled".
Did remembered snatches of these conversations between Jesus and his disciples eventually find their way into the New Testament to form the basis for the passages that use the psalms to interpret the life of Jesus? It’s not impossible; in fact, it’s an exciting thought.
When trying to make sense of the extraordinary life, death and resurrection of Jesus, his followers searched their Hebrew Scriptures for clues. There they began to glean insights into who Jesus was – the long-awaited Messiah.
Most importantly, the psalms gave insights into Christ’s passion. Before Jesus’ life and ministry, no one expected the Messiah to suffer and die. He was expected to be a victorious saviour, possibly a military hero or king. But nailed to a cross like a criminal? No way.
So when the earliest Christian preachers began telling the story of Jesus, they thought in terms of the psalms. They looked at Psalms 22, 31 and 69, for they are known today as the great "passion psalms" that express the suffering of an innocent person cruelly opposed and persecuted: Jesus cried from the cross, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" (Psalm 22)
The early church fathers further developed the practice of seeing Jesus as a fulfilment of images from the psalms. They used a system known as typology whereby something, a person or event in the Old Testament was identified as a forerunner or "type" of a person or event in the New Testament.
The example most familiar to many is the Exodus event: God’s rescue of the Hebrew people from captivity in Egypt was seen as a type of the paschal mystery whereby Jesus redeemed us. Moses stood as a type of Jesus.
Among the church fathers was St. Athanasius, the great third-century bishop of Alexandria, who claimed that Psalm 98 ("All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation by our God") "tells of the first coming of the Lord", for Christ has brought salvation by his coming among us on earth.
Athanasius also used Psalm 99 to praise Christ as being "throned upon the cherubim", for Christ redeemed the fallen earth by taking on human nature.
The third-century Eastern theologian Origen interpreted Psalm 85 as proclaiming that Christ’s coming on earth meant that God blessed the land.
St. Augustine, who wrote an extensive commentary on the psalms, continued the theme of associating the incarnation with earthly fecundity by interpreting this psalm to mean that "truth shall spring out of the earth" in the person of Christ, born of a virgin.
These reflections of Christ in the psalms – and here I’ve given just a few examples! – remind us of one important fact for our own prayer life: If Jesus is Lord of the Psalter, and if the psalms express the prayer of Jesus to his Father, then when we pray the psalms we are uniting our prayer to that of Christ himself. -By Nancy de Flon