2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
The essence of God’s message in the 1st reading is that Israel is a chosen people in God’s plan of salvation and that their mission is to take that light of salvation to the whole world. It is that light which has brought us together in celebration today.
In the 2nd reading, Paul reminds us that we are not only called to salvation but more specifically we are called to be saints; to be holy people.
And in the Gospel, John the Baptist declares that Jesus is that light of salvation.
In the extract that we heard from the Book of Isaiah in the first reading, God says that his Chosen Servant will be “as a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” The words ‘light of the nations’ translate in Latin as Lumen Gentium and this is the title of the document formulated at the Second Vatican Council to describe the universal mission of the Church. Our mission as the Body of Christ is to bring the light of salvation, the light of Christ, to the world.
Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians was written while he was living in Ephesus around the year AD56; about five years after he’d left Corinth. Paul had lived and worked in Corinth for about 18 months establishing a Christian community there. At that time Corinth was a leading Greek city rivalling Athens for importance. It was a commercial crossroads between East and West whose population was very mixed and mobile; Greeks, Romans and Jews attracted by the thriving business environment. An ideal location for Paul from which to evangelise to a wide audience.
The city was a cauldron of different customs, cultures and creeds marked by a fair measure of moral depravity not unusual in a busy seaport. Paul’s letter was a response to disquieting news he’d received about the young church in Corinth that was experiencing a whole host of serious spiritual, theological, personal and political problems. Problems that are not unfamiliar in our own church and society today: factionalism where the community was split by charismatic leaders each with their own understanding of the Christian message; disagreements about the liturgy and the celebration of the Eucharist; the role of women in the Church; sexual morality and marriage; and disagreements about the Church’s teaching on the resurrection of the body.
We can imagine Paul’s disappointment on hearing these sorry stories from the Corinthians and if any of us were writing this letter I wonder if we would have opened the letter with the beautiful greeting that we heard in the second reading? I think I’d have been more inclined to say something like “What are you smoking?” or “Have you completely lost your minds?”, “Have you not remembered one word of what I taught you?” But Paul, in his great wisdom, doesn’t lose the plot. He starts the letter reminding them that are have been made holy through their baptism in Jesus Christ and that they are called to be saints together with all Christians throughout the world.
We live in a complex, confused and chaotic society and these words from Paul are as relevant and appropriate to us today as they were to the Corinthians two thousand years ago. We who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ are all called to be saints.
The title Lamb of God for Jesus appears only in the Gospel of John. In today’s reading, John the Baptist sees Jesus approaching him and cries out “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” These words are so familiar to us; we hear them at every Mass. Interestingly they have been used in the Mass since the seventh century when they were introduced into the liturgy by Pope Sergius.
I wonder what John the Baptist was thinking when he called Jesus the Lamb of God?
I should imagine that one reference for him would have been the Passover Lamb. The blood of the Passover Lamb delivered the Israelites in Egypt from death and slavery; the blood of Christ on Calvary delivered us from the slavery of sin and opened for us the reality of eternal life.
John’s father was a priest who offered the sacrifice of a lamb in the Temple every night and every morning for the sins of the people. Did John realise that his words were a profound prophesy of things to come? That Jesus is the Lamb chosen by God himself and that on the Cross Jesus would take upon himself the sins of the world, and wipe them away?
The great prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah both had a vision of one whom by his suffering and sacrifice, meekly and lovingly, would redeem his people. Perhaps John the Baptist was the first to see in Jesus the fulfilment of these prophesies.
John says that he didn’t know Jesus. But he and Jesus were related and their mothers were dear to each other so we can confidently assume that Jesus was not a stranger to him. John is not saying that he didn’t know who Jesus was; he’s saying that up until that moment when it was revealed to him, he didn’t know what Jesus was ; that Jesus was the Son of God.
We like John are called to witness convincingly to the Lamb of God in our lives. Through him, and with him, and in him, we are the Lumen Gentium, the light of Christ to the world.
There is sheer wonder in the phrase Lamb of God. Often our familiar prayers, with repetition, can so easily lose their impact and significance. Let us reflect with awe and wonder in this celebration of the Eucharist on the words “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” and let us pray with renewed and heartfelt love “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us and grant us peace.”