This Sunday’s readings take us from Old Testament prophecies of the future Messiah to the union of Jew and Gentile in God’s kingdom.
They also bring us to the herald of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the mysterious image of Jesus’ “winnowing fan.”
Here are 9 things to know and share . . .
1) What does the first reading this Sunday say?
The first reading is Isaiah 11:1-10 (you can read it here).
This reading contains the famous Messianic prophesy which begins:
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
It continues by describing how the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him.
The passage stresses that the “shoot” (a future king of the line of David) will judge righteously. It also uses language that will be applied to Jesus in the New Testament, stating:
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Then comes the famous passage:
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The prophecy concludes:
They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
2) What does this mean?
This prophecy may have had an initial fulfillment in the days after it was first given, in Isaiah’s time. If so then, like many prophecies, it has another, greater fulfillment, which is in the Messiah.
The text depicts the ideal king—the Messiah—who will come as a shoot or branch from the stump of Jesse. That is, he will belong to the line of King David, the son of Jesse.
The Hebrew word for “branch” is netser, and this is part of the background to Matthew’s statement that “He shall be called a Nazarene” (Matt. 2:23), playing on the similarity in sound between netser and nazoraios (an inhabitant of Nazareth).
The language this passage uses to describe how the Spirit of the Lord rests upon the king was later used by the Church to describe the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Endowed with the Spirit as he is, the Messiah will be the ideal king. He will have powerful authority (“he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth”), but he will use his kingly authority wisely and in the service of justice (“and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked”).
He will not oppress his people. Far from it! Rather, he will inaugurate an era of peace and justice such that it can be depicted as reconciling predators and prey, so that “they will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.”
This will lead to knowledge of the true God spreading all over the world “as the waters cover the sea” and in that day the Messiah—the root of Jesse—shall be a beacon to all peoples, who will turn to him and inquire of him and his wisdom.
These prophecies are fulfilled, in an anticipatory way, with the first advent of the Messiah and the spread of the Christian faith, and they will be definitively fulfilled with the second advent and the eternal order.
3) What does the responsorial Psalm for this Sunday say?