At times, it's difficult to reconcile the limited way in which the followers of Yahweh seem to act in the Hebrew Scriptures with the unlimited way in which the followers of Jesus seem to act in the Christian Scriptures. Sunday's three liturgical readings not only point out the contrast, but also show how such a contradiction lurks deep in our own human nature.
In the first reading (2 Sam 7: 1-5, 8-12, 14, 16), Nathan the prophet turns David's plan to build Yahweh a house into a prediction that Yahweh will build David a house. Of course, the king is talking about a physical building, while the prophet is referring to a family of kings.
Yet, the concept that a universal God could be concerned primarily with just one royal family in one small nation seems theologically nearsighted to anyone who believes in a God who is concerned equally with every family in every nation.
How do we reconcile Nathan's proclamation with Paul's statement in the second reading (Rom 16: 25-27) that God's mysterious plan, "kept secret for long ages," has now been "made known to all nations"? ("Nations" is one of the biblical terms for non-Jews -- the Gentiles.)
God for all
First, we must understand that when we read the writings of the Hebrew Scriptures in chronological order -- they're not in such order in our Bible -- we discover that the Sacred authors consistently move toward understanding Yahweh as a universal God.
It's significant, for instance, to know that the selection from II Samuel was composed many years before Deutero-Isaiah prophesied. He's the first biblical author to teach strict monotheism. Before this unnamed prophet ministered during the Babylonian Exile in the sixth century before Christ, Jews believed Yahweh to be a territorial God, concerned only with Israelites in Israel. Other nations and other people had other gods to look after their needs and interests.
But once Deutero-Isaiah proclaims that Yahweh is the one and only God for everyone, everywhere, then non-Jews have to be brought into the Yahweh picture. Deutero-Isaiah certainly brings them in.
Yet such radical inclusion doesn't happen instantly for everyone. Humans need time to absorb the actions and personality of a God who isn't human. Even when we step into the new, we still have one foot in the old, Luke demonstrates in the Gospel (Lk 1: 26-38).
Now and forever
Though Gabriel tells Mary that she's about to conceive a child who "will be called Son of the Most High" -- something never spoken of in the Hebrew Scriptures -- the Annunciation also meshes perfectly with the traditional theology of many of those ancient writings. "The Lord God will give Him the throne of David his father," the angel continues, "and He will rule over the house of Jacob forever."
On one hand, Luke's Annunciation scene conveys the unlimited nature and power of Jesus, Son of God, Savior of the Universe. Yet on the other hand, it also squeezes Jesus into the limited horizons of people who are anticipating only a terrific, human, Jewish successor to the great King David.
Luke packs lots of religious experience into Mary's response: "May it be done to me according to your word." The virgin from Nazareth is giving herself over to the here and now as well as to a future she can't possibly envision. The evangelist is convinced that God's word carries us far beyond anything we can anticipate in this world.
Yet, at the same time, it's at work in the most mundane dimensions of our existence. God's word is directed to our backyards as well as to the farthest galaxies of the universe.
Perhaps we notice both the limited and unlimited aspects of God's word in our Sacred Scriptures precisely because we've already discovered the same two aspects of that word in our daily lives.