Second Sunday in Ordinary Time 2020 – The Messiah
We hear words from Saint Paul to the Church at Corinth that are a consoling reminder as we settle into this new civil year: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The scripture readings today seem simple. Certainly they are short.
But there is a strong and clear reference to Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. It is this Messiah who Paul is referring to, the one who is the source of that very gift of grace and peace. John the Baptist acknowledges Jesus being revealed as the Messiah.
The short excerpt from Isaiah is from the second of the suffering servant songs. Those songs are filled with beautiful language and imagery. Many of us are familiar with those songs because of their centrality to Holy Week liturgies, or, perhaps, from following along with Handel’s Messiah.
Yahweh says of the suffering servant (recognized as Jesus Christ, the Messiah), I shall make you a light to the nations so that my salvation may reach the remotest parts of the earth.
In the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Islam and Christianity), the messiah is a liberator of a group of people. He is the anointed one, usually descended from the line of King David. For those of us who are Christian, we mean Christ when we speak of the Messiah.
Our belief is that the messianic prophecies in the Old Testament were fulfilled in the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Those prophecies refer to his descent from the Davidic line, being named as King of the Jews, and that he will return to fulfil the rest of the prophecies.
Was Jesus the anointed one? Each of the four Gospels includes the anointing of Jesus by Mary in Bethany. Was he a liberator? Take note of how often the gift he offers to those he heals is the gift of freedom and liberation.
That freedom takes many forms. There are times where the freedom is implied. Other times, it is specifically referred to. It can be physical liberation or a spiritual freedom.
Messianic language can be problematic when taken too far. I suppose that it is worth asking whether Jesus had what we refer to as a messiah complex, the state of mind people can veer towards when they believe that they are responsible for saving others. That can be a category of religious delusion.
I think that the ministry of Jesus was so characterized by humility, service, love, inclusion and community that it could not have been based in delusions of grandeur.
Adolf Hitler is commonly believed to have suffered from an acute case of the messiah complex, shown most clearly in his sense of being the saviour of the German people and the desire to rid Europe of undesirable people.
Experts point out how his messiah complex was unimaginatively destructive when combined with narcissistic and paranoid traits. Could we ever find the complex in contemporary leaders? Probably, but we probably have safeguards in place to ensure that it can’t have any lasting effect.
Meanwhile, let’s be grateful that the Messiah we speak of is the source of light, grace, and peace.