If you took a poll among first century Jews about their expectations of what the Messiah would be like, and what he (a female Messiah would not feature) would do – there would be many and varied replies. Many would look at the many and varied prophecies that are contained within the Hebrew scriptures and somehow attempt to form a job description. The great variety in that description would be revealed by the poll. Some would point to the great 9th century BCE prophetic figure of Elijah, who helped to cleanse Israel during a period of great moral decay. Others would go with the perennially popular 10th century BCE figure of shepherd King David. Most would say that the messiah would bring judgement to the nation of Israel, before raising an army to overthrow the oppressive overlords of the Roman occupiers, and taking his place as the new rightful king.
So it is little wonder that John the Baptist – languishing in a gaol after denouncing King Herod – wants to know what kind of messiah Jesus is going to be. As the weeks turn into months and years after his baptism in the Jordan, it is becoming clearer that Jesus is not acting as a Zealot (contra Reza Aslan*), but instead fulfilling a very different messianic ideal. It has only been in more recent years that texts found in Qumran – the so-called Dead Sea Scrolls – notably the Messianic Apocalpyse found in 4Q521 have brought to life the popularity of a very different hope. This hope is captured powerfully in the first reading today – from Isaiah 35.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (9’27”)
Advent, Sunday 3, Year A.
The readings for the Third Sunday of Advent are: Isaiah 35.1-6a, 10; Psalm 146; James 5.7-10; and Matthew 11.2-11
* I read the book by Aslan, Zealot, this week. As Fr Robert Barron comments on the book, Aslan misses the full reality of the historical Jesus by adopting the strange debunking and demythologising methodology. There are so many factual errors in the poorly argued book, and Aslan gets himself into weird academic knots by trying to argue his position – accepting some texts and rejecting others with no stated basis for either position.