In the beginning

Column: Role of prophet is fulfilled by Jesus

by Father Mike Stubbs

In some Protestant churches, the minister will select whatever passages from Scripture that he or she wishes to preach about that Sunday.

The minister picks out a topic for the sermon and then chooses Scripture passages to correlate to it. There is no predetermined schedule of readings from Scripture.

In contrast, in the Catholic Church and in several others — such as the Lutheran and Episcopal churches — a schedule of readings for the entire denomination has been fixed well in advance. There is little flexibility. That schedule is called
the lectionary. Likewise, a book containing the readings is also called the Lectionary.

We inherited the notion of the lectionary from the Jewish people. In the synagogue service for the Sabbath, the first reading proclaimed is taken from the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. The second reading, called the haftorah, usually comes from one of the prophets. That is the case in Sunday’s Gospel reading: Lk 1:1-4; 4:14-21.

The Gospel reading describes a Sabbath service in the synagogue at Nazareth. Jesus reads a passage from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Afterwards, Jesus sits down and adds: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

We should note that the passage from Isaiah is not framed as a foretelling of a future event. It is not a prophecy in that sense. Instead, the prophet is describing the mission that God has entrusted to him. So, how can Jesus claim that the passage has just then been fulfilled, if that mission had already been entrusted to Isaiah centuries earlier?

By making that claim, Jesus is updating the passage. He is identifying with Isaiah. It is not only the Scripture passage that has been fulfilled, but the role of Isaiah himself is fulfilled in Jesus. Isaiah was a prophet. Jesus also will be a prophet, but in a more complete and perfect way. Jesus will accomplish whatever was lacking in Isaiah.

As a prophet, Isaiah spoke under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Jesus also, since he is a prophet, is being guided by the Holy Spirit. That is why the Gospel mentions: “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit.” That is also why the passage from Isaiah applies to him: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.”

Jesus is a prophet, one who speaks on behalf of God. But Jesus is not merely a prophet; he is also the Messiah, which means “the anointed one.”

In the Old Testament, priests, prophets and kings were anointed with oil as a sign of their inauguration into office. But Jesus has been anointed
by God: “He has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.”

Jesus is not only a prophet, not only the Messiah. He is also the Son of God. In Sunday’s Gospel reading, that is not immediately apparent. It is still early. But as Jesus’ ministry unfolds, that will become clearer.

About the author

Fr. Mike Stubbs

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