4th Sunday of Advent, Year A

This Sunday’s readings invite us into an area of considerable discussion--not to say dispute--in classrooms, pulpits, pews, chanceries and other such places: How is Scripture to be interpreted most fruitfully? What methods and questions are most suitable? Do we need to consider the 8th century circumstances where the prophet Isaiah advises a king on the royal response to a situation of international aggression: The king is reluctant to hear the prophet’s advice and so the prophet adds a sign as incentive. A child will be born to enhance the Davidic line, while the kingdoms whose leaders threaten Judah can anticipate extinction. Or drawing on classic philosophical methods (analogy, allegory, typology), shall we focus on the way in which the gospel reading constructs the features of the Isaiah text to stress the circumstances of the child’s conception and the centrality of his role: God with us? Can we have both, do both? There is little danger that the texts will not be read allegorically, since that mode is strong in our tradition. Prophets speak proleptically about what lies far ahead. But perhaps it is just as useful, currently, to spend some time filling out the figure of the prophet struggling to convince the monarch that he need not be drawn into a war that will gain him and his people nothing. Prophets speak urgently about situations in the present. Let’s not miss that aspect of Isaiah’s word to us. Barbara Green, O.P.

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