If you believe the historical Jesus thought of Himself as the long-awaited Jewish Messiah who planned to establish a new religion, you can’t prove it from Sunday’s Scriptures.

If Micah, for instance, is referring to Jesus in the first reading (Mic 5: 1-4), he’s certainly not painting a picture of someone who intends to live his life outside Judaism’s earliest, most revered traditions. The prophet believes the "one who is to be ruler in Israel" is an ideal, law-abiding Jew, not someone who rejects Judaism for "greener pastures."

Like his three immediate prophetic predecessors — Amos, Hosea and Isaiah — Micah roots his oracles in the Jewish concept of social justice: the relationship people are expected to develop with one another and their God. But unlike those illustrious three, Micah steers clear of politics. His proclamations spring from a belief that the pain his people are experiencing from Assyrian invasions is Yahweh’s punishment for their lack of concern for the unfortunate individuals around them. Throughout his recorded ministry, Micah ignores the moral implications of the treaties and agreements that entwined Israel in this mess, and zeros in solely on people’s refusal to commit themselves lovingly to one another.

Justice first

When we return Sunday’s passage to its original context, it becomes evident that Micah’s future, kingly descendant of David (symbolically coming from David’s hometown, Beth-lehem) will lead the Israelites to victory over the Assyrians only because of the justice he finds in them.

We also encounter a parallel insistence on old-time Judaism in the other two readings.

No concept is more fundamental to the Hebrew Scriptures than hearing God’s word and carrying it out. It defines the perfect disciple of Yahweh in Deutero-Isaiah’s third song of the Suffering Servant, and is at the center of both the second reading (Heb 10: 5-10 and Gospel (Lk 1: 39-45).

The Hebrews selection revolves around Jesus’ statement, "Behold, I come to do your will." In the writer’s theology, such commitment is worth much more than those liturgical mainstays, "sacrifice and offering,...holocausts and sin offerings." We who try to imitate Jesus quickly discover that, "by this ‘will,’ we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all."

More than anything else, it’s Jesus’ determination to discover God’s will and carry it out that actually saves us.

Perfection

This belief is the basis for Luke’s definition of the perfect Christian, the ideal disciple of Jesus. The person in his Gospel who most deeply embodies that characteristic (besides Jesus) is Mary.

Following the lead of the classic Jewish prophets, Luke finds God’s will in God’s word. So he consistently associates Mary with that word. Remember her famous reply to Gabriel in the Annunciation passage: "I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word."

Luke has Elizabeth follow up with the statement: "Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled." Like all good Jews, whatever Mary does is prompted by her commitment to God’s word in her life.

Before 1970, we never had readings from the Hebrew Scriptures in our Sunday celebrations of the Lord’s Supper. Our ignorance about the only Bible Jesus and His early disciples used fed our assumption that both He and they had severed their ties with Judaism and were intent on establishing a new religion.

As these readings show, their goal simply was to return to the roots of Judaism and live their faith as Yahweh originally intended it to be lived. They thought of themselves as good Jews. Only later would they be called "Christians."

(12/18/03)