15 January 2011

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading, Isaiah 49:3, 5-6
The name "Israel" is used three times in this Reading but the only way to make any sense of this passage is to understand that the first Israel has a different meaning than the remaining two. The first Israel, described here as a servant through whom the Lord will show His glory, clearly is a prophecy about the Messiah. The remaining two speak of the nation of Israel. Most likely the author used the name "Israel" to prophesy the coming of the Messiah because it is through the nation of Israel that He would come. God's initial plan for the servant is to bring back Jacob to Him and have the nation of Israel gathered to Him. The mission here, then, is a spiritual one. There does, however, seem to be a political mission as well which is to restore Israel's exiles. But as we know, Christ did not come for political reasons and perhaps that is prophesied here when the Lord says that the political mission is too little for the servant. God clearly calls His servant to be a light to all nations so that His salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. Christ extended that mission to all His disciples when He said: "Teach all nations" (Saint Matthew 28:19). With these words, then, we not only see Christ as the Messiah but also ourselves as the body of Christ included in God's plan of salvation and co-fulfillers of the Messianic prophecy. It is, of course, our Lord's love for us that compelled Him to include us in such an intimate way.

Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 1:1-3
Saint Paul had previously preached to the Corinthians and spent a great deal of time with them but after his departure several divisions began to form among the people of Corinth. Many emotional wounds were inflicted on the population because of these divisions. This letter from Paul was an effort on his part to heal those wounds. There are a few opinions as to who Sosthenes is, but the most accepted thought is that he was a great sufferer for the faith in Corinth; and Saint Paul mentions him here to highlight him as a model to follow. If this opinion is correct, it should be noted that this particular man named Sosthenes of Corinth was once a staunch enemy of Paul and must have had a conversion experience. Other conjectures are that he is the same Sosthenes who was beaten before the tribunal in Gallio (cf. Acts 18:17); or that possibly he was Paul's secretary. In this letter Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are called to unity but that Corinth is not being singled out; this unity of the faith is intended for all those everywhere who call upon the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. This Reading closes with a familiar greeting from Saint Paul: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Because of its familiarity it would be easy to pass over this greeting quickly without giving it much consideration but think about how floored you would be if someone said it to you; or consider how much courage it takes for you to say it to someone you've just met.

Gospel, Saint John 1:29-34
Saint John the Baptist, as the prophesied precursor, was given the graces to fulfill that office; and now in this Gospel passage he reveals what he knows: First, Jesus is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. Secondly, even though Jesus was born after John, He existed before John and ranks ahead of John. Thirdly, John proclaims that he saw the Spirit descend from heaven and remain on Jesus. Fourthly, Jesus is the One Who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. And finally, like a good mystery novel, John the Baptist saves the real jaw dropper for last: Jesus is the Son of God. A lamb symbolizes innocence but it cannot be easily determined if John is identifying Jesus as a Victim when he proclaims Christ as the Lamb Who takes away the sin of the world. Today, all of us without hesitation could read Victimization into John's statement because we know the fullness of the Jesus story; and that being a Victim was necessary to take away the sin of the world. In Isaiah a cruel destiny is alluded to with the words, "Like a lamb led to the slaughter" (Isaiah 53:7), but whether John the Baptist had this in mind is uncertain. Even though Jesus was born after John, Christ is depicted as existing before John which identifies Jesus as God and Man although the hearers of John's proclamation probably didn't make that connection. When John says, "I did not know Him" most likely he means by physical visualization since John spent about twenty years of his life in the wilderness. John knew Christ was of Divine Origin even before the appearance of the Holy Spirit as a Dove because when Christ came to be baptized, John said to Him: "I ought to be baptized by You" (Saint Matthew 3:14). The Church calls us today to evangelize, to prepare the way for Christ's return. No one in the Church is excused from this mission.