“O Flower of Jesse’s stem, 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.” (O Antiphon for Dec. 19th)
The idea of the “root of Jesse” in Scripture is an interesting one, with a meaning that seems a bit fluid. The natural meaning of “root” is, unsurprisingly, a source or foundation. But as imagery, it beckons to new growth coming forth from a devastated stump – as if that which grows from the root can be called the root, in the same way that people carry the names of their ancestors.
Jesus, however, confounds this meaning a bit more in Mt 22:45 (and related) when he says: “If David calls Him ‘Lord,’ how then can the Messiah be his Son?” (HCSB). This seems to validate the literary usage of “root” as more than associative imagery, but as an image that, just like the Christ Himself, takes on characters both etiological and eschatological.
Anyway, looking back at the natural meaning of the term, I attended my kids’ school’s Christmas Concert this Tuesday. The concert departed from the usual Christmas script quite a bit, and instead looked back at the broader story of God’s revelation to His people, beginning with the creation, and skimming through salvation history. One of the highlights was a song about Ruth.
The song, naturally enough, focused on the greatness of Ruth’s character, as seen in her devotion to Naomi, to Naomi’s people, and to Naomi’s God. It struck me how much of that same fierce loyalty seems to have made it into the blood of David, as he demonstrates in his devotion to Saul, to Jonathan, and to the Lord. There’s a lot of Ruth in David, and I have little doubt that the contemporaries of the young Jesus said something similar of Him: “there’s a lot Mary in that boy.” The apple never falls far from the tree, indeed.