“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor ,and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; provide for those who mourn in Zion—to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.” Isaiah 61:1-4 (NRSV)
As Christians, when we read the words of Isaiah we tend to think more of Jesus’s reading of it found in the Gospel of St. Luke (as well as the less than enthusiastic reaction from his neighbors) or as a prophecy than how it can apply to ourselves. Of course, there is nothing wrong with reading the words of Isaiah as a prophecy pointing to Jesus as the Messiah. I would also like to stake out another position on this ancient text. Perhaps it is time we start thinking about this passage and how it applies to our own ministry, our role as servants to the people of the Lord, and as his followers.
The words of Isaiah, although in the first person, are not referencing Isaiah, instead they harken back to an earlier passage in Chapters 44 and 45. The figure described in Isaiah 61 1-4 describes what a post-exilic people needed, namely comfort. They needed a figure that could provide comfort to a people who had gone through terrible and unimaginable tumult that was the exile. The exile for ancient Judah shook their faith to the core, a national trauma that even the return to the promise land could not fully heal the pain and confusion. Conceivably, they turned to the words in Isaiah and found comfort. God, in his time, will provide one to end all the wrongs in the world. This person, like the Kings before them, would be an anointed with oil and be the Messiah (Ha mashiach) and bring security, peace, and freedom.
For us today, every day we too seem to be struck with traumatic event after event. The breaking news banner seems ready to report a new tragedy that rattles our own faith, if not in God, surely in the human race. Mass casualty events from shootings, wars, economic inequality, drug cartels run rampant. Add in a boiling frustration stemming from our inability to end this terror, and maybe we can put ourselves in the place of the ancient Hebrew people.
For those of us in the Independent Sacramental Movement and Christianity as a whole, Jesus is that anointed one, THE Messiah, who frees us from the captivity of sin and of evil. Nevertheless, a thought occurred to me while reading the words of Isaiah. As a Christian and as someone who has received the sacrament of Confirmation, I too, am A messiah and you the reader may well be as well. In my experience Confirmation is all too often seen as an afterthought, a goal to attain and celebrate, but otherwise a once and done event.
I still remember when I was anointed with Chrism oil and during that beautiful liturgy; the Holy Spirit was called down to strengthen me. It was a moving event. But is it over? Or am I actually expected to do something with this Holy Spirit I have received? I believe the latter. All of us who have had this sacrament can and, I think, are expected to take a new look at the words of Isaiah in light of our Confirmation as not just the words of some long distant figure or as being fulfilled by Jesus. Too often, when we think of prophecy, we get in the habit of assuming that these events are out of our control with these events fulfilled by others in the past or in the future. Just possibly, we may be involved in an abstract way. Prophecy, like creation (through evolution, through the birth and death of stars, etc.), is a never-ending process of not just trying to figure out the future (rarely I prophecy so simple) but it can also be about bringing something to fruition with each generation building on the works of the last.
What does that mean practically? It means my mission, as a follower of Jesus and of the Creating Father, is to pray, to seek wisdom from the Scriptures, to discover my mission, and act. Indeed, anointing is always just the beginning of mission. The Kings were anointed by prophets to lead the Hebrew people. That was the King’s mission from God. Jesus was anointed to make the great sacrifice on the cross. That was his mission from God. What about those of us today who have also been anointed? Is it our mission to sit back comfortably in a world very quickly going to hell in a handbasket? Seems like a waste of oil and liturgy. There are captives held by drugs and poverty. There are those who feel spiritually empty or feel tepid on a good day. None of these things can begin to be solved by any one person or any one priest. However, I think this passage is an impetus to start fulfilling prophecy as Jesus did. Being an anointed, a messiah, cannot be a passive event. If we receive the Holy Spirit and do nothing after, we almost become anti-Christs in the sense we reject our mission as Christians. Christianity is not baseball. We cannot sit in the bleachers with a cold beer and cheer the “team” on. We are on the team and we must pull our weight.
But keep in mind, we are “Messiah’s”, not Saviors. Therein lays the difference. Jesus Christ is the sole and sufficient Savior. That is his role. Our role is to be the hands and feet of our Lord, our small works, our words, and our ministry can be seeds of goodness the Lord can use to reach people. Some may fall among the thorns and be smothered; some may fall upon rocky soil and wither. Nevertheless, others will fall among the good ground and will spring up with those who in turn decide to follow the Lord and decide to take the step to move closer to the Father.
I hope that by having a new perspective, we can come to better appreciate Confirmation, an often underappreciated sacrament. We are just the latest anointed ones in a span that goes back thousands of years that includes the likes of David, Solomon, and Jesus Christ. As messiahs, we have been fortified with the Holy Spirit to build the Kingdom of God. Let us pray that we always stay open to the Holy Spirit and we will be taken where we are needed most.