O Root of Jesse, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.
Family matters. No, I don’t mean the 90s television sitcom, “Family Matters,” but instead come to the realization that today’s antiphon — O Radix Jesse — points us to a truth that we often wish to dismiss in our individual-driven culture. Family matters, and it extends beyond those who are united by birth and marriage.
That this antiphon begins with an acknowledgment of Jesus’s family lineage (Jesse was the Father of David from whom Jesus would descend as the Scriptures foretold) should give us pause to consider the significance of family and the place that family has in our understanding of the Christian life.
At first one might think that the nod to Jesse is an assertion of Jesus’s Jewish identity, his particularity and chosen status, which is most certainly is to some extent, but St. Paul uses the Biblical source of this antiphon, a selection of the Prophet Isaiah, as evidence to support his case that the ministry of Christians, and that of Jesus himself, was and continues to be to all people.
Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I say that Christ became a minister of the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, to confirm the promises to the patriarchs,but so that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written: “Therefore, I will praise you among the Gentiles and sing praises to your name.” And again it says: “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” And again: “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him.” And again Isaiah says: “The root of Jesse shall come, raised up to rule the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles hope.” May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the holy Spirit (Romans 15:7-13)
From the root of Jesse, from the family of Abraham with whom God had made the first Covenant, the Savior would be born to welcome all people to himself.
There is a real powerful challenge implicit in this thought. Who is our family? Who matters?
In so many cultures, and sometimes with the very best intentions, families can become very insular and exclusive. This often extends to cultural, tribal or racial groups too. “Us versus Them,” “Capulets versus Montagues,” “Irish versus Italian,” “Jews versus Gentiles.”
Yet, as Paul reminds us, God did not enter the world as one like us to save just a few (or even just “the many”), but instead Christ reminds us of the most foundational truth of our existence — we are all part of the same family, all are welcomed, all are saved by Christ. We are both brothers and sisters to each other, but we are also united to all of creation as people brought into existence with the loving intentionality that reflects God’s overflowing and abundant grace.
Last year during my O Antiphons reflections I focused more on the way that religious and political leaders do not seem to embody the prophecy that is contained in the “Root of Jesse” antiphon, that they do not stand silent in Christ’s presence, that they do not bow down in worship before God. Instead, God and Christ are invoked for all sorts of unjust and unchristian ways, often along the campaign trail or from the pulpit, whereas the name of the Lord should be used to free the captive, liberate the oppressed and heal the broken. Last year I asked these questions, which I find myself continuing to ask.
What do religious and church leaders do to honor the King of kings and the Prince of peace today? In what way do multiple crusades glorify the Prince of peace? In what way does the discrimination of people in a “land of freedom” and the “home of the brave,” because of race, gender or sexual orientation display the worship of the crucified God and the silence of kings (or presidents, or senators, or representatives…) in the presence of God-made-man? What about the majority of religious and civil leaders, when the names Jesus Christ or God are invoked, is different from the rulers of the messiah’s own day, when the prophecy of Micah appeared to be a joke?
This year, as those questions continue to force themselves upon my conscience with the haunting of Marley and Marley for today’s Christian during the season for which Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, I am also struggling to understand better the ways in which we have neglected Paul’s point — read here in Romans and reiterated elsewhere in his writings — that all are welcome in the Lord. Jesus Christ did not enter this world, live, die and rise for a select few, but for everybody and all of creation. Do we really believe that? Do we actually live that?
It strikes me that even the most powerful of the world, the “Kings and nations” as the antiphon proclaims, would indeed be silent in worship if we could come to appreciate just a small amount of what that entails and what the implications might be for our lives.
Just as yesterday’s antiphon calls us to be saved from ourselves, today’s antiphon points the newly freed Christians and people of good will in the direction of our newfound freedom: life in the Lord as a member of the Body of Christ, united to one another as family in the greatest sense of the word. A family saved by the Lord and called to live as he had, caring especially for the least among us and those most in indeed of our collective support. It is only in our actions and words that the last line of today’s antiphon can come to truth, we are the instruments of God’s aid for those in our human family. May nothing keep us from coming to the aid of others.