4 December, 2012. First Week of Advent – Tuesday. (or: St. John Damascene)
First Reading: Isaiah 11:1-10
(“They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain. “)
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
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 nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
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.
Gospel: Luke 10:21-24
(The humble of heart will know God with the special knowledge that Jesus has of him.)
At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
Then turning to the disciples, Jesus said to them privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”
The Fallen Tree of David
Isaiah announced the work of the Spirit and Jesus rejoiced in it. This Spirit seems fragile and tender. If we judge from these two passages of Isaiah and Luke, the Spirit leads to a scene of paradise where the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. Such seeming fairy-tales are hidden from the learned and the clever, and revealed to the merest children.
The passage from Isaiah may seem as innocent as a fairy-tale, yet embedded in the story is hidden a tragic truth. The image of “the stump of Jesse and . . . his roots” tells us that the mighty Davidic dynasty has been cut down like a tree to the ground. Nothing remains but a dry stump and some hidden roots. When this tree had been cut down by the Babylonians in 587 B. C. the people were shocked into the realization that the Davidic dynasty was really not eternal. Yet, through the prophet Nathan God has assured David: “your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever” (2 Sam 7:16). What they had believed from the obvious meaning of these words was not what God intended. In shock the author of Psalm 89 cried out: “You have rejected and spurned . . . your anointed. . . . You have hurled his throne to the ground How long, O Lord? (Ps 89:39, 45, 47).
The prophet could not repudiate the tradition of the Davidic dynasty. God must always be true to his word. The dynasty in some way will revive. The spirit of the Lord will rest upon the stump and the roots of Jesse.
That same Holy Spirit is now resting upon us and especially upon those parts of ourselves which seem dead and maybe betrayed. We must believe that God inspires no honourable desire nor offers any promise that will not be fulfilled. Yet the accomplishment of these divinely placed ideals will often enough come about in ways that we can never imagine. We should never restrict God by our understanding of his promises.
Right here we see the reason behind the fairy-tale that follows in Chapter 11 of Isaiah. Perhaps the calf and the young lion will never browse together. Perhaps babies should never be allowed to play by the cobra’s den. Yet the dream of universal peace and gentle trust is so wonderful that not even our fairy-tales adequately measure up to it! When our faith dreams in these fantastic ways, Jesus rejoices in the Holy Spirit and says: “I offer you praise, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because what you have hidden from the learned and the clever you have revealed to the merest children.”
Only strong and dedicated adults can remain persons of faith when their “Davidic dynasty” is cut down and nothing seems to remain of their hopes. All of us have lived through such harrowing experiences. What we were convinced was very good and inspired by God turned out to torture us with frustration. All of us who have dreamed our best dreams have felt betrayed by what we considered our very best! People who hope for little, lose little and suffer less. Our best and most unselfish hopes, which provide every evidence of being from God, let us down the hardest. When we are “hoping against hope” (Rom 4:18) then we glimpse what kings and prophets longed to see but did not see. Somehow or other by faith we secretly realize that deeply imbedded in our losses there abides a potential for goodness beyond our imagination.
It seems that after we have done our best, that best must collapse so that God’s dreams for us may be fulfilled. At the heart of our existence then lies a mystery which no one knows except Jesus and the heavenly Father – “and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal” it. This mystery is Jesus himself, a child stripped of divinity to communicate God to us, a human being destined to be stripped of humanity on the cross of death to reveal how we ought to live. This thought can be a great help in times like ours, when our Church seems in such disarray.