PS 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17
IS 11:1-10 PS 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17 LK 10:21-24
“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his shoots shall bear fruit.” –Isaiah 11:1
There was a tree stump in the neighborhood where I grew up. Every day I’d ride past it on my bicycle when I was out playing with friends. Based on the stump’s size, I’d say it once was a towering oak tree that lived for many decades, providing shade beneath it as well as loads of acorns for hungry squirrels.
I knew none of that as a kid, of course. For me, the stump was a landmark that I’d ride past.
I don’t know if it’s there still, but it reminds me that life is always replete with past remnants – ‘stumps’, if you will. The markers are everywhere. Our bedroom dressers are markers from my deceased grandmother, who acquired them in the 1940’s. Many of our Christmas decorations are hand-me-downs from past relatives. Even our body features can remind others of relatives who came before us. My posture and hairline is a sort of “stump-marker” that reminds my grandmother of her long-dead father, who was born in 1901. The reminders/stumps signify what isn’t there anymore, but also that there’s a particular history … a lineage. Something continues onward. The connection remains.
This passage in Isaiah is commonly known among Old Testament scholars as a prophetic allusion to the Messiah to come, an event the Old Testament points toward. Jesus, the shoot that bears fruit, will descend from the stump of Jesse, King David’s father. It’s a lineage. This is good news! The Messiah is coming! But … the people that Isaiah is prophesying to don’t know Jesse; he’s long dead. And they themselves will be long-dead when Christ arrives. So why is Isaiah sharing this to the immediate audience?
Perhaps it’s this: this prophecy insists to its immediate audience they are part of a story that’s going somewhere. The Israelites are in exile in Babylon during Isaiah’s time; his words remind them that the exile is not the end of the story. It also confronts them with hopes and challenges. How to live in the meantime? How to live with a hope that the fulfillment of which will surely outlive them, but someday not their descendants?
I suppose it’s a similar sort of hope my grandmother had when she gave us the bedroom dressers near the end of her life. She knew what it meant for her to pass those on to us – she knew she would soon have no need of them. It’s what my mother hoped for when she diligently worked to raise me up in the Christian faith – that fruit would be born that would outlive us both. It’s what I hope for with my future descendants, that some of what I am and have will cooperate with God’s plans for them, and that what I have to give toward that will outlive me. I find hope in that reality, and challenge in the here and now. I am a tree that will someday be a stump, but from that stump a shoot will bear fruit sometime later. So it was with Christ, from the stump of Jesse.
Jim Roach is the Campus Minister for Reinert Hall.