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The Messiah: A Shoot from the Stump of Jesse

by Brant Pitre December 11, 2020 0 Comments

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[Paul] came to Antioch of Pisid′ia. And on the sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said:

“Men of Israel, and you that fear God, listen. The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it.

And then it skips down to verse 22:

And when he had removed [King Saul], he raised up David to be their king; of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’ Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised. Before his coming John had preached a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his course, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’

Alright, so let’s pause there with this second reading from the vigil Mass. Why does the Church choose this reading for the vigil Mass of the feast of Christmas?

In essence, I think it’s because it’s a nice summary of everything that we’ve been looking at during the season of Advent. So if you recall, during Advent season (the first Sunday of Advent), we begin by looking at the message of the coming of Christ, the parousia of Jesus, and then we begin quickly to back up to His first parousia, His first coming and the preparation for that coming that we hear from in the ministry of St. John the Baptist—his public proclamation of the coming of the kingdom of God and not just the coming of the kingdom of God, but of the coming of one after him, who would be greater than him, and whose sandals he is not worthy to untie...who (as Paul identifies here) is the Savior, the Messiah from the house of David.

Now, I think for most of us, when we think about the coming of the Messiah, we just think about the idea of a long awaited Messianic king who comes to bring salvation to the people of Israel. And that’s, of course, absolutely right. But notice that one line there in Paul’s speech at Antioch that jumps out—that God says:

...I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart…

...and from his posterity, God will bring Israel a Savior. So throughout the Advent season, many of you may have actually had a Jesse tree in your home. And the idea of the Jesse tree is rooted in a prophecy from the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 11) that describes the coming of the Messiah as a shoot sprouting from the branch of Jesse’s tree, which has been cut down and it’s become a stump.

And so what Paul is saying here in his speech to the people at Antioch is that that long awaited shoot from the stump of Jesse, that Messianic branch from the tree of David, by which the kingdom of God will be established, and for which the people of Israel were waiting, is Jesus of Nazareth. He is the long awaited Savior. And as Savior and as king, He has to come—this is very important—He can’t just come from anywhere. He has to come from the family and the stock of Jesse, who was the father of King David.

By definition, if you look at the prophets, over and over again, the future king who goes on to be called the Messiah, the mashiach, is not just any kind of king. He’s not a king from the tribe of Benjamin like Saul was. He is a king from the tribe of Judah, from the family and the house of David, from the royal family.

So one of the things that early Christians in going about preaching the good news of Christmas, especially if they’re in places like Paul is here, in Antioch where there’s a large Jewish community. He goes into the synagogue. That’s the Jewish community within Antioch. One of the first things that Christian evangelists had to establish was not just that Jesus was the Messiah, but that He was from the house of David, that He was part of the royal family. Because if He wasn’t from the royal family, He couldn’t be the true king of Israel.

So at this feast of the vigil Mass of Christmas, what Paul is doing is giving the kérugma, the proclamation, the good news that Jesus of Nazareth—the one who was pre-announced by John the Baptist and then who fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah—is in fact the Savior of the people of Israel. He is in fact the long awaited Messiah from the house of David. He’s the shoot from the stump of Jesse’s tree

Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre


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