Jesus’ anointing identifies him as the ‘Messiah’

in the beginning
Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.

by Father Mike Stubbs

An ancient Egyptian wall painting shows a servant holding a cone on top of the head of his master.

The cone is chilled olive oil, which has solidified so that it could take the shape of a cone. On top of the person’s head, it would slowly melt and cool the person.

This is the same image provided in Ps 133:1-2: “How good it is, how pleasant, where the people dwell as one! Like precious ointment on the head, running down upon the beard, upon the beard of Aaron, upon the collar of his robe.”

In the hot and dry climate of the Middle East, olive oil would soothe and refresh the skin. It was often applied after bathing, much as we might apply lotion.

Besides this everyday use of olive oil, though, the ancient Israelites also used it to inaugurate someone into high office. This explains the reference in Psalm 133 to Aaron, who was high priest.

The ceremony of ordaining a man as priest involved anointing with oil. Similarly, the ceremony installing a man as king also involved anointing with oil.

We might compare it to crowning a king during the Middle Ages, or the contemporary practice of administering an oath of office to the newly elected president. Anointing with oil would seal the deal.

Sunday’s first reading, 2 Sm 5:1-3, tells us: “When all the elders of Israel came to David in Hebron, King David made an agreement with them there before the Lord, and they anointed him king of Israel.”

This was not the first time that David had been anointed. As a boy, the youngest of Jesse’s sons, he had been anointed by the prophet Samuel, much to his and everyone’s surprise (1 Sm 16:1-13).

Once David had grown as a man and proven his worth as a leader, he was anointed king of Judah (2 Sm 2:4). Eventually, David was also chosen to be king of the remaining Israelite tribes, as we see in Sunday’s reading, and was anointed king of Israel.

Besides anointing kings and priests, the Old Testament also speaks of anointing prophets.

It is not certain whether this involved an actual ceremony or was a metaphorical way of speaking. Similarly, Jesus was acclaimed as the anointed one, which translates into “Messiah” in Aramaic or “Christ” in Greek.

By calling Jesus the anointed one, his followers were saying that God had designated him to be our spiritual leader, our priest, prophet and king.

That is what we celebrate, on this solemnity of Christ the King. 

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