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Ordinary Time 2 (A)
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Readings for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1. Isaiah 49, 3 and 5-6

  • You are my servant, Israel.  Three times I hear God calling and confirming the people.  Today’s passage comes from one of the “Servant” songs, which the prophet directed to his fellow exiles.  Israel was an insignificant kingdom to begin with, that eventually became absorbed into a vaster empire where it would be lost to history.  But its ancient name was not lost; the prophet applied it to the survivors of the southern kingdom of Judah, by that time in their own Babylonian exile.  And so it comes down to me and our assembly.  Christians have applied these “Servant” songs to Jesus, and so they appear over and over in our liturgies.
  • The reading has three parts.  First comes the renewal of the covenant and its implications.  “I am with you.”  Israel has received the franchise.  Through you I show my glory.  It is God who defines Israel’s role and mission in the world.
  • Next, a description of the prophet who has been called, formed from the womb, and content in his calling, glorious in the sight of the Lord.  He says that all of value in him comes from God. 
  • Finally, God proposes a greater horizon for the people.  It is too little for you to be my servant.  I hear God thinking out loud, changing the play on the spot, getting carried away by the possibilities.  The mission has now become greater than witnessing to an isolated parish or nation: reach to the ends of the earth.
  • I remember that we Christians say the same thing about our calling, and so do Muslims.
  • Climax: A light to the nations. 
  • Message for our assembly: Is God Israeli, or American or European?  Not on the basis of this reading.
  • I will challenge myself: Not to rush through this oracle, or become heady with the implications, but just announce what God is saying through the prophet.

2. I Corinthians 1, 1-3

  • Note the introduction.  Paul, called.  This plain one-second beginning would not do for anyone today who introduces a mission in a church or a television evangelism program.  There is nothing here about “award-winning,” “world-spanning” or “longest running ministry.” 
  • To the church of God.  The apostle is not talking about a title claimed on a building or a sign, but about a people who receive and live a calling. 
  • This church is called to be holy while at the same time it calls on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  As in every covenant, both parties are bound together.
  • All those everywhere.  It has grown into a world body living through Jesus.  I think most of those who call themselves Christian would fit this definition.  The circle is much larger than our juridical Catholic boundary.  Let me think of this as I read.  Everywhere, literally!  Let me reach the other masses in process around the world, the other divine liturgies, the other worship services.
  • Grace to you and peace.  It is the apostle’s usual greeting, as he becomes Jew to the Jews and Greek to the Greeks.  Let me be equally inclusive.
  • Climax: Called to be holy.  He does not say “faithful” or “observant” or “learned.”  I remember the call to holiness decreed by the bishops of the world in the Constitution on the Church.  People would say “beyond the call of duty.”
  • The message for our assembly: Are these emotions that the apostle expresses the ones we feel when we address our church, or when we read about the churches in other cities?
  • I will challenge myself: To treat my reading as an introduction to a modern-day evangelist’s message.  It is one thing to just read the words as a ceremonial event, but do they fit where we are today?  If not, why not?

Gospel. John 1, 29-34

  • Behold!  The Lamb of God – who takes away the sin of the world.  I note the three parts of this sentence: the Baptist’s alerting voice, Jesus’ designated name and his mission.  The Baptist is talking first to his disciples and, if I have anything to do with it, he is also reaching out to us. 
  • In today’s world everyone would want to “know about” Jesus, so when we finish the reading our curiosity is not satisfied.  The evangelist has another purpose.  He writes so we will “know” Jesus, so we will believe that he is the Christ.
  • John is saying here, “This is the man.  Take my word for it.”  I’ve been in this position and I know how difficult it is to explain just why I feel so sure of this.  “Since the day I met him, I knew he was the one.”  I remember the verse from He Touched Me, “Since I met my blessed Savior.”  In this passage, the evangelist underlines the conviction of the Baptist without presenting evidence that would be acceptable in any court of law.  I remember the testimonies I have heard at the end of a cursillo or other lay retreat, brimming with commitment.
  • Twice the Baptist says, I did not know him.  This means he was not well acquainted with Jesus and his purpose.  The evangelist does not put the name of Jesus on John’s lips, though he identifies Jesus’ mission.  The Baptist would put an end to the world, while Jesus would purify it of its sin.  I think of a comparison from our own time.  Where the Baptist is invasive in his surgical procedure, Jesus might work locally with micro-instruments.  
  • This Gospel is the only one in which the Baptist sees and testifies to the divine confirmation at the baptism of Jesus.  In other words, we learn of it through his words, not from the God’s-eye view of the Synoptics.  He saw a dove from heaven that remained upon him. 
  • Climax: Now I have seen and testified. 
  • Message for our assembly: Do we know, or want to know, Jesus hidden among us?  Would we see him where he is?  There is a rapid-fire Spanish hymn I remember from the 1970s: Con vosotros está y no le conocéis.
  • I will challenge myself: To breathe life into this testimony.

From Word to Eucharist: Jesus and his mission are being revealed.  Let us come to him, as we identify and detest our sinfulness, turning to our better self that seeks liberation, and forming part of this larger family that assembles around the table.

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