Sunday, January 19, 2014

Lamb of God

                                    2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Stained Glass Window
Assumption Church
Fairfield CT*

Older Catholics will remember that before the Second Vatican Council there were only two major readings from Scripture at each Mass. There was the Epistle usually taken from one of the letters of St. Paul, and the Gospel reading from one of the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. The same readings were repeated every year. Moreover, the priest read the readings in Latin with his back to the congregation. Only in the last century did he repeat the Gospel in the venacular while facing the people.

Besides allowing the use of the native language throughout the Mass, the Council sought to expand the selection of readings in order to put greater emphasis on the proclamation of the word of God, which became known as the Liturgy of the Word. This was done in two ways. First, a third reading was added to the traditional two. Now we have a first reading usually taken from the Hebrew scriptures or Old Testament. Then a second reading taken from the Epistles or Acts of the Apostles; and, finally, the Gospel.

However, the Church also introduced three cycles of readings, an A, B, and C cycle. That is, instead of the same readings every year, it would take three years before the readings would be repeated. The cycles are primarily differentiated by the gospel selections. In the A cycle, the gospel readings will be primarily from the Gospel of St. Matthew. In the B cycle it will be St. Mark, and in the C cycle it will be St. Luke. We will find readings from St. John interspersed throughout all three cycles.

Today is the second Sunday in Ordinary time. Ordinary time signifies that part of the church year which is not part of any particular feast, like Christmas or Easter. We might ask what happened to the first Sunday in Ordinary time? Well, it was last week but was called the Baptism of the Lord. Last week marked the beginning of the public life of Jesus with his baptism by John the Baptist at the river Jordan. Today, we follow up on that important event.

But let's begin by taking a look at our first reading today from the prophet Isaiah. The reading refers to a servant of the Lord who will derive his strength from the Lord, and who will be a "light to the nations," in order that the Lord's "salvation may reach to the ends of the earth."

Who is this servant? Is it Isaiah, himself? Is it the whole people of Israel? Is it some person in the future, say John the Baptist or even Jesus, himself? It is hard to say. Both Jesus and the Baptist appear in today's gospel account. Let's take a close look at what happens.

Representatives of the leaders of the Jews had approached John to ask him if he was the promised Messiah. John replied that he only baptized with water but that there was someone in their midst, “the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to loose.”

The next day the gospel account tells us that John “saw Jesus coming toward him” and said,

            Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

We have just completed the joyous feast of Christmas but the Church in its liturgical year does not dwell on the babe in the manger but immediately starts by confronting us with the whole purpose of the Lord’s mission. Jesus is going to sacrifice himself for us. He is the sacrificial Lamb who will atone for the sins of the people. From that point on sacrifice becomes the key element not only in our liturgy but in our lives.

Jesus is going to embark on a mission that will end with his crucifixion and death. Immediately after His baptism, the Evangelist tells us that Jesus began to call disciples to follow him. First Andrew and Peter, and then the rest ending with us. Fortunately, the sacrifice of Jesus is sufficient for us. Most of us will not have to face torture and a cruel death. But if we call ourselves followers of Christ, we will have to give up, in our own little way, our own lives in the service of others.

Husbands will give up their lives for their wives, and wives for their husbands. Both will have to sacrifice for their children. When they grow older, the children will have to sacrifice for their parents. Scripture tells us that people without spouses and children are called to even greater sacrifice. Not one of us is exempt. To save our life, we must lose it.

We all love sports but don’t we admire those players who sacrifice themselves for the good of the team? Even baseball has a special play called a “sacrifice” where a player gives himself up to advance a teammate.

So in today’s second reading when St. Paul tells the Corinthians to be “holy”, he is not telling them to become plaster saints. He is calling them to a life of hard work and sacrifice in doing the work of the Lord. Just as Jesus did, he is calling us to become disciples, and “take one for the team.” 

Reading 1. Isaiah 49: 3, 5-6
Reading II. 1 Corinthians 1: 1-3
Gospel. John 1: 29-34 (lamb of God).

* Photographic image by Melissa DeStefano. Click on image to enlarge.

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