Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Cyrus, my messiah

Isaiah 45 begins with a rather surprising figure, one that catches me off guard almost every time I read it:
"Thus says the Lord to Cyrus his anointed."
Cyrus was the king of Persia who defeated Babylon and then sent the Jews home from their exile. He is lauded in Ezra and Nehemiah for operating under God's providence, as well as here in Isaiah. What is remarkable here is that the title 'anointed' is our English word for the Hebrew term 'messiah'. In ancient times, this term simply meant 'the king'. Saul and David were both anointed by Samuel to be king, and Solomon was anointed by Nathan the prophet. Yet they were all Israelites. How can a Persian (modern Iranian) be the messiah?

There is a variety of ways to approach this, but what I will suggest today is simply that when we speak of Jesus Christ as the Messiah, we should recall what it is we mean by this. He is anointed by God (at His baptism, a figure of His death and exaltation) to be the supreme ruler over creation. Creation includes ourselves. Though Christ no longer walks the earth with us in the same way that He did when many whispered about Him "perhaps He is the messiah," like Cyrus, He is a king in time and space, not merely of hearts. Another way to say this is that our politics matter, not merely because we want to be kind people, and helpful seekers of peace and justice, but because we will all answer at some point to a greater authority.

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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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