In Tuesday's Word on Fire blog, Father Steve shares his homily for today's Mass, in which he explains how the prophet Isaiah's words give us a better understanding of the mysterious gift we have been given: the gift of knowing the Lord Jesus and inviting others to do the same
The prophet Isaiah’s eloquent and mysterious insights are meant to be understood in relation to the horrifying events of 587 BC, when the Babylonian armies swept through the Kingdom of Judah, ransacked Jerusalem, desecrated and destroyed the temple, killed the royal family, and sent the inhabitants of the City of David into exile.
The “stump of Jesse” that Isaiah refers to is the royal family, the descendents of King David, who in the wake of the catastrophe of 587 BC, were no more. In other words, the line of David’s successors was brought to a bloody and dramatic end. That family tree was no longer alive, but was merely a dead stump.
Isaiah therefore envisions the impossible—the restoration of the House of David. God would bring out of that dead stump new life, and in doing so, God’s promise to David of an everlasting kingdom would be realized.
The mysterious words that follow about an apparently utopian era when “the wolf shall be the guest of the lamb and the leopard lie down with the kid” allude to how God will bring about this restoration.
Rather than thinking about Isaiah’s words as a prediction of a paradise on earth, think about them as opposites coming together in perfect communion.
Then think about the revelation of Christ in which two opposites, a divine and creaturely nature come together in communion in the divine person of Christ.
The God/man, Christ, will arise from the House of David, and through him the promise of an everlasting kingdom will be fulfilled.
Isaiah also speaks of the “holy mountain” and a “glorious dwelling.” This is the temple. It is in the temple of Christ’s body that a “sign” will be sent out to the nations. That temple, which is the Incarnation of God in Christ, endures in the world even now. It is manifested here, in the Mass.
It is here in the Mass that the eloquent, mysterious vision of Isaiah is presented in its fulfillment to the world.
Christ’s Gospel is often used as way to justify simplicity over complexity, “homespun” common sense over the postulations of intellectuals. This unfortunate interpretation loses sight of what Christ is actually speaking about.
What has been hidden from the “wise and learned” in Israel, that is, its cultural elites, is that the God of Israel has come to his people in Jesus of Nazareth. The elites do not see or understand this, but others do, and those that do, though not the elites, have been given access to the greatest revelation ever manifested to Israel and to the world.
That revelation is that God has become human in Jesus Christ so that Israel and the world can know the one, true God and share communion with his life.
That some in Israel see and understand what the elites cannot see and understand isn’t setting up some kind of class warfare or meant as a humiliation of those who think deeply, but it is, according to Christ, a mysterious gift of providence.
That gift has not just been given to those who met Jesus of Nazareth face to face. It is a gift that has been, mysteriously, given to us.
Why have we been chosen? God knows better than we do. What we do know is it is not because we are more worthy or deserving or better than others.
We know of Christ because God determined in his providence that we should know him.
For what purpose? God in his own way reveals the answer to that question to each of us- but whatever our personal answer is, the purpose we have all been given is to give testimony to who the Lord Jesus is, to invite others to know him in his Church, and to live in such a way that our life only makes sense if Jesus is the Lord of our life and destiny.
Father Steve Grunow is the Assistant Director of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.