He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” He said to them, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Lk 4:16-18;21)
Isaiah was a great 8th century prophet who faithfully counseled King Hezekiah against the Assyrians and who foretold the Babylonian Captivity and its liberation by Cyrus the Great. He also prophesied, as noted above in our quotation from today’s first reading, about the arrival of the Messiah, the anointed king who would rescue the Jewish nation from their enemies and establish lasting peace. Thus when Jesus read from the scroll in the synagogue at Nazareth and announced that Isaiah’s messianic prediction was being fulfilled in Him, He was announcing to a people who knew this passage well, yet were unprepared for it to come true in their own “hearing”. Even though they knew of the great works Jesus performed in Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee (Lk 4:23), their ears were dull and their hearts slow to credit Jesus as Isaiah’s promised one.
The people of Israel and Judah at the time were hoping for a Messiah, but not one who preached a gospel of repentance and peace. The nation of the Jews waited upon a descendant of David who would cast out by arms and by the power of God all their enemies and reestablish the prosperity of Jerusalem as a glorious city worthy of foreign tribute. Instead, the people should have been more attentive to the prophecy of Isaiah which declared the savior to be God’s suffering servant (see for example Is 52:13-53:12). Little did these listeners in Nazareth know that in trying to usher Jesus off a cliff in response to His claim of being the Messiah, they themselves set in motion the public hostility toward Jesus which would eventually lead Him to his salvific Passion.
In order to commemorate Isaiah on this 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, we have placed on our bulletin cover an image entitled, Prophet Isaiah (1516), painted by the High Renaissance Italian, Fra Bartolomeo. Bartolomeo trained as an artist but became a Dominican Friar around the year 1500. He returned to painting as a religious and formed an artistic friendship with the great Raphael.
Bartolomeo, who forsook painting in the first several years of his religious vocation, later visited Rome where he spent time in the Sistine Chapel. A few years later he painted his version of Isaiah based on his observance of the work of Michelangelo. Fra Bartolomeo painted this work in Florence where, sadly, he died only one year later at the age of 45.
Bartolomeo gives us a very Italian looking Isaiah which would have touched the emotion of his audience. Isaiah is clothed from neck to feet with Bartolomeo’s modest approach to art. Bartolomeo wanted his work to generate a religious experience and so Isaiah holds a tablet with the words in Latin: Behold God, my Salvation. Isaiah is seen pointing toward the future or perhaps (in its original position in the Billi Altarpiece) toward another nearby image depicting Christ Our Salvation. May our lives and our actions also always point toward Christ the Savior of the world!
–Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services