Jan 14, 2017

Ordinary time, 2nd Sunday: "Behold . . . follow Him"

"Behold, the Lamb of God"

Isaiah 49:5-6
1 Corinthians 1:1-3
John 1:29-34

The Word for Sunday:

It seems we may often read the Gospels in a way that puts us outside the conversation and events so we act far more as spectators rather than participants.  We stand at a distance and watch the events unfold.  We sit quietly and listen to the words of Jesus or other figures in the Gospels, at Mass for example.  It’s as if we walk upon the event, stand in the crowd, observe what happens, then go on our way. While we may hear a fine homily that connects the lesson of the scriptures to our lives, it strikes me I sometimes wonder if we really get it. 

However, the Gospel this weekend provides more than passive participation.  Imagine that John the Baptist stands before you on stage in a darkened theater.  The light shines on John for a moment yet in the back you see a shadowy figure who stands quietly. Suddenly, the Baptist turns to the audience in front of and below him.  As he steps forward he begins to speak directly to the audience of which you are a part so that he might engage our full attention. He raises his right arm and points to that figure behind him as the light then shifts and you see it is Jesus.

Then facing the audience John declares: “You see him?  This is your Lord and Savior; the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  He is the one of whom I said, a man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me . . . the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit . . .  he is the Son of God. Now, follow him.”

We may be struck by John’s direct approach but he certainly gets our attention.  We must respond and can’t ignore the words of this charismatic figure who now fades into the background and who points to Christ the “man who ranks ahead of me.” The rank is not one of economic or earthly power that might place Jesus among the upper crust; the mighty, powerful and the movers and shakers of society.

Instead our Lord comes in peace.  He comes to forgive and extend mercy; to include rather than to exclude and to heal the brokenhearted. To so identify with us that he embraces our human experience and eventually even dies for us, only to be raised three days later – for us.  The fiery preaching of John the Baptist was done to prepare us and to wake us up that we might be ready to see this figure not in shadows and darkness but in clear and shining light with no doubt as to his mission and identity. 

So, this Sunday is a kind of transition from the clarion call of Advent to “make ready the way for the Lord” to see God’s prophetic promises fulfilled in the birth of Jesus among the lowly and peaceful figures of the Christmas season to now see the adult Jesus ready for mission and anointed with the Spirit, the Son of God come among us.

The first reading from Isaiah speaks of a figure who is called to be “a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” In our Christian perspective we see Jesus as that light and his mission which reaches out to Jew and Gentile alike; a mission that is inclusive and invites.  Ultimately, it is a call from God through his Son which demands a response. We cannot ignore the great figures who heard the call of God, embraced it in faith, and walked with confidence in his guidance: Isaiah, Mary, Joseph, and John the Baptist rank as shining lights from our Advent and Christmas time.

Now, as John points to Jesus he speaks to us collectively.  In other worlds, the mission of Christ has become our mission as well as his followers.  We should be reminded this week that we follow Christ, the Lamb of God as John calls him, as a people of faith; as a diverse collection of humanity whose call to see Christ as that light sent from God might have come to us in all sorts of ways such as family, culture, personally, the witness of others.  That we who believe in Christ are called to be a continual light to the nations and to carry on the mission Jesus began and continues in and through his Church.

It seems primarily then that God intends us to carry out his mission through human leaders and human events.  There are many other moral leaders and founders of various world religions such as Confucius, Buddha, Moses, Mohammed, of the variety of Christian leaders who began other Protestant traditions or even the notorious King Henry VIII in his less than stellar efforts to shift authority from the Pope to himself.

While most of these leaders were seen more as teachers and prophets, none claimed to be the light of the world, the way, the truth and the life, to work wonders to forgive sin or to predict their own resurrection from the dead.  Jesus alone made such claims and his followers have continued to insist they are true.  History has confirmed the belief of countless Christians that Jesus Christ is indeed who he claimed to be. 

That leaves us with the mission entrusted to us from our baptism. We may call it today evangelization. Our second reading from the Christians in Corinth has Paul remind them of their mission and in that way of ours as well: “to you, who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours . . .”

The mission we carry calls us first to be a holy people. To be a people who not only show up but more to be a people who embrace conversion in Christ Jesus.  It is that act of God’s grace that will make us holy as in right relationship with God who strive to live lives of virtue, not sinfulness.  Then our light can truly shine because it is the light of Christ not ourselves that others can see.  In other words, let’s be a community which attracts rather than excludes or repels.

Our celebration of the Holy Eucharist invites us to see who we are as a collective community, all called by God to holiness and fed with the Lamb of God himself.  

So, as John stands center stage and looks down to you with arm extended to the one he calls the “Lamb of God” who will “baptize with the Holy Spirit” and who therefore is the “Son of God” do I get it?  Can I let go and embrace the mission Christ has offered to us?  Can I strive to be holy and walk in the way of his light? 

Pour on us, O Lord, the Spirit of your love,
and in your kindness
make those you have nourished
by this one heavenly Bread
one in mind and heart. 
Through Christ our Lord

(Prayer after Communion)