Wednesday, 19 December 2012

19th December 2012 - O Radix Jesse

O root of Jesse, you stand as a signal for the nations; kings fall silent before you whom the peoples acclaim. O come to deliver us and do not delay.

Today's antiphon is a reminder of Jesus' human identity - 'born of David's line'. Jesse was the father of King David. The Jesse Tree, representing Christ's genealogy appears in mediaeval iconography of the incarnation takes his name. Fine artistic interpretations of his family tree can be seen in church stained glass and wall paintings. St Matthew's genealogy of Jesus traces his ancestry from Abraham 'father of many nations' via Jesse to Joseph, husband of Mary. St Luke's genealogy traces his line different, going backwards from Joseph via Jesse to Adam. Neither represents a historical chronology. The most that can be inferred from the Gospel stories is that Jesus' family were descendents of the clan of King David

Lineage is a device used by the evangelists as part of the story they tell to emphasise in different ways the rootedness of Jesus in generations of Hebrew people, and in the human race. These were stories the first hearers of the Gospel could identify with, and thereby understand that the One whom God sent is no celestial alien, nor angel, nor demi-god, nor superman, but a person like us, sharing fully in the universal experience of being human in order to transform it. 

Yet, as St John says challengingly in the prologue of his Gospel: 'He came to his own and his own knew him not.' Jesus represents authentic humanity in a way that all people can choose to identify with. But no matter how well connected socially Jesus was, this didn't shield him from his having authority, his message and life being rejected, as he invited every person to be more truthful about themselves in their relationship with God.

Jesus' humanity is a signal for the nations: "This child is destined to be a sign that will be rejected ... many in Israel will stand or fall because of him, and so the secret thoughts of many will be laid bare" said Simeon on welcoming the infant Jesus to the Temple. Jesus' very being exposes all that is not right about human status and power. It is good enough reason for kings to fall silent before Him. All who acclaim him must also be aware that they too are subject to scrutiny in the light of his self sacrificial love.

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