from Old English, gōd spell "good news"
a writing that describes the life of Jesus

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

hidden messiah

Matthew was a Jew who ended up a quisling who ended up a Christian Jew. And like so many converts, the faith of his fathers lit on fire when he returned to it. To judge from the book that bears his name, he became fascinated by the way the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible began to be played out in his new Master's life.

So when Jesus, who grew up in Nazareth, relocated to Capernaum, a fishing town and travelers' way-station in the region of Galilee, Matthew heard echoes of Isaiah's prediction that salvation would come - even to the Gentiles! - out of Galilee. And right in that same passage, though Matthew doesn't include it here, the proclamation that it would be the Messiah himself who would come out of Galilee to bring this kingdom that would extend beyond the Jews - the passage that rings out in Handel's "Messiah":

King of Kings
and Lord of Lords
and the government shall be upon his shoulders..

And it's that passage that goes further than some Messianic prophecies, saying not only that "his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor," but also that the Messiah will actually be "the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace." I'm not sure the Jews of Jesus' time, so desperate for political liberation, were ready to acknowledge that. Messiah would be a political revolutionary, who would throw off the yoke of the Roman oppressor ("thou has broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff across his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor"), a new Great King in the line of David - but even his disciples were slow to recognize this man before them, probably the Messiah, as God Himself.

Curious also that the people of Jesus' day could read this scripture about the coming Messiah and miss the fact that it wasn't about destroying the gentile oppressors, but rather it announced that they would see a great light, would be delivered from the shadow of death, perhaps that they would be counted in this "multiplied" nation, the new Israel, rejoicing. Indeed, the whole passage is embedded in a section where God brings judgment against His own people, and sends a Messiah who will bless the Gentiles. As spake the prophet Paul (Simon), "A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest..."

Intriguing to pick up the echoes of King David's most famous Psalm in the language of Isaiah's proclamation of liberation:
"On those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned. . . .
For thou has broken the yoke of his burden,
and the staff across his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor. . . ."

Psalm 23
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."

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