This reading contains the famous Messianic prophesy which begins:
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
It continues by describing how the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him.
The passage stresses that the “shoot” (a future king of the line of David) will judge righteously. It also uses language that will be applied to Jesus in the New Testament, stating:
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Then comes the famous passage:
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The prophecy concludes:
They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
2) What does this mean?
This prophecy may have had an initial fulfillment in the days after it was first given, in Isaiah’s time. If so then, like many prophecies, it has another, greater fulfillment, which is in the Messiah.
The text depicts the ideal king—the Messiah—who will come as a shoot or branch from the stump of Jesse. That is, he will belong to the line of King David, the son of Jesse.
The Hebrew word for “branch” is netser, and this is part of the background to Matthew’s statement that “He shall be called a Nazarene” (Matt. 2:23), playing on the similarity in sound between netser and nazoraios (an inhabitant of Nazareth).
The language this passage uses to describe how the Spirit of the Lord rests upon the king was later used by the Church to describe the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Endowed with the Spirit as he is, the Messiah will be the ideal king. He will have powerful authority (“he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth”), but he will use his kingly authority wisely and in the service of justice (“and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked”).
He will not oppress his people. Far from it! Rather, he will inaugurate an era of peace and justice such that it can be depicted as reconciling predators and prey, so that “they will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.”
This will lead to knowledge of the true God spreading all over the world “as the waters cover the sea” and in that day the Messiah—the root of Jesse—shall be a beacon to all peoples, who will turn to him and inquire of him and his wisdom.
These prophecies are fulfilled, in an anticipatory way, with the first advent of the Messiah and the spread of the Christian faith, and they will be definitively fulfilled with the second advent and the eternal order.
3) What does the responsorial Psalm for this Sunday say?
It picks up the theme of the king’s son and his relationship with God. It begins:
Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.
It continues with a plea that his reign of righteousness and peace last “until the moon is no more” and that it may extend “from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”
It notes that the king’s son delivers the needy and has pity on the weak.
It concludes by stating:
May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun.
May all nations be blessed in him; may they pronounce him happy.
4) What does this mean?
The statement that this Psalm is “of Solomon” may mean that it was written by him or at least about him.
Either way, it is a prayer sung at the Jerusalem temple on behalf of Solomon or the reigning king at the time.
It serves both as reminder of what a good king is supposed to do (provide justice, peace, deliver the needy, show mercy to the weak) and asks God for the blessings appropriate to a good king (long life, extensive dominion, an enduring name, respect among the nations).
On the higher, Messianic level, it describes the realization of all of these things in the reign of Jesus, which was inaugurated at the first advent and which will be consummated at the second advent.
Jesus both provides, in the highest way, the benefits of a good king (including not just earthly deliverance, but eternal deliverance) and enjoys in an ultimate way the blessings appropriate to a good king, including an everlasting name (the name above every name, at which every knee shall bow) and being pronounced blessed among all the nations.
Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.
He then urges his readers, by God’s grace, to live in harmony and worship God with one voice.
He says to welcome each other, as Christ has welcomed us, and he reminds his readers that
Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
“Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name.”
6) What does this mean?
This passage sums up several themes of St. Paul:
The conviction that the Old Testament Scriptures were written to provide instruction for us in our day. One frequent way of providing this instruction was to look at them in a Christological light, to read them on a Messianic level, as we did with the first reading and the responsorial Psalm.
The need for believers to live together in harmony so that their worship of God may be pure and united.
The need to imitate Christ and be giving and generous in our relationships with others.
The need for harmony between Jews and Gentiles, since Christ has now brought the Gentiles within God’s community, as hinted at in the Old Testament. (Thus the quotation at the end of the reading, which is from Psalm 18:49; cf. also 2 Sam. 22:50).