Jesse, the root of the family tree

Jesse, the root of the family tree

8th December

A shoot will spring forth from the stump of Jesse, and a branch will grow from his roots. The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him.” (Isaiah 11:1)

Jesse was the father of King David and another direct ancestor of Christ. In the First Book of Samuel, he is referred to as “Jesse of Bethlehem” (1 Samuel 16:1, 8; 17:12, 58). He was a sheep farmer and his son, David, cared for his flocks. This reminds us of the shepherds keeping watch in the fields of Bethlehem as Christ was born.

The prophet Isaiah later wrote about him, saying: “A shoot will spring forth from the stump of Jesse, and a branch will grow from his roots. The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him: a Spirit of wisdom and understanding, a Spirit of counsel and power, a Spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord…The root of Jesse shall come, the one who will arise to rule the Gentiles; the Gentiles will hope in him.” (Isaiah 11:1-2,10 as quoted in Romans 15:12)

This was a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah, a man who would emerge from Jesse’s family tree to rule the nations. The Church has long understood the branch growing from the root of Jesse to refer to the birth of Christ from Mary. The New Testament confirms this interpretation by describing Christ as “the root and the descendant of David” (Revelation 22:16).

This passage is the basis for the Jesse Tree tradition in art, which developed from the eleventh century AD onwards. This painting of Jesse holding the prophesied root is found on an altar panel within the Lady Chapel of Sacred Heart, Caterham. It was produced by the Gothic Revivalist Joseph Pippet between 1890-1892 and restored in 2017. Its presence in a chapel of Our Lady underlines the link between the prophecy and the Virgin Birth.

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