In today’s first reading the prophet Isaiah paints a picture of what the reign of the future descendant of David, Son of Jesse, will look like. Isaiah foresees a time when peace and concord would be established throughout the whole of creation. There would be the restoration of a lost serenity and innocence so that in their relations with one another God’s creatures ‘do no hurt, no harm’. As part of this vision Isaiah discloses that the coming king will be a rallying point for all the nations. Under his rule all peoples - both Jews and Gentiles – would be brought into friendship with God and with one another.
The writers of the New Testament would see this future kingdom prophesied by Isaiah being brought to fulfilment in Jesus Christ. At the time of the Annunciation the angel reveals to Mary that she will give birth to a son, and says of this son that ‘the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end’ (Luke 1:32-33). And when the child Jesus is presented in the Temple, Simeon declares him to be ‘a light to enlighten the Gentiles and give glory to thy people Israel’ (Luke 2:32).
In his Epistle to the Romans, Saint Paul suggests that Jesus Christ was born of the Jewish race ‘not only that God could carry out the promises made to the patriarchs, it was also to get the pagans to give glory to God for his mercy’ (Romans 15:8-9). Paul sees all this as bringing to fruition precisely what Isaiah had foretold: ‘The root of Jesse shall come, he who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles hope’ (Romans 15:12).
Sustaining the right relationship with God and with one another - those things which embody this new kingdom - makes demands upon each one of us. This is John the Baptist’s point to some of the Jewish leaders who came to him for baptism in the river Jordan. He tells them that they cannot claim security simply by calling themselves children of Abraham and thus assuming that the promises made to Abraham would be applied to them. Placing their confidence in their ancestry was not enough to maintain a right relationship with God. Rather, John tells them, if they don’t measure up to their calling then God will simply raise up new children of Abraham.
At the heart of John’s message is the call to repentance. Participation in the kingdom of God requires a change of heart. And this means living in a new and challenging way. In the second reading Saint Paul describes the new way we are to live if we are to maintain the bonds of unity which exemplify the kingdom. This new way is grounded in our imitation of Christ, making our own his ways of thinking and acting. Saint Paul says, for example, that we are ‘to treat each other in the same friendly way as Christ treated you’. We are no longer simply to please ourselves, just as Christ did not please himself but rather defined his existence by his obedience to the Father.
In order for us to achieve all this God comes to our aid. In the first reading Isaiah describes the qualities with which the Messiah would be endowed in order to fulfil his mission. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him, the prophet says, giving him insight and wisdom, allowing him to judge with integrity and to rule with authority. The New Testament informs us that it is Jesus the Messiah upon whom this Spirit comes to rest at his baptism and which then guides him in his mission.
We too at our baptism receive this same Holy Spirit with its sevenfold gifts: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. If we are attentive to the guidance of the Spirit which is given to us then our thoughts and actions will come closer to those of Christ and we shall be able to share in his mission of gathering together all peoples in obedience to the one God and bringing hope to a fallen world.