HOMILY – JANUARY 15
Through the prophet Isaiah in the first reading, God addresses fond words to his people Israel: “You,” he says, “are my servant, through whom I show my glory!” And Israel responds gratefully, in the first person singular, as though the whole nation were one person: “The Lord formed me as his servant from the womb. . . I am made glorious in the sight of the Lord!” And the complimentary dialogue goes on, as God ups the ante: “It is too little for you to be my servant. . . I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth!”
What an ecstatic moment! The Lord and his people, striving and singing to outdo one another in honor and praise. If that’s the contest, God of course wins. His love for us is infinite, and we owe him praise and adoration, not only for all he’s done for us but simply for who he is in himself. God DESERVES our worship. We don’t DESERVE anything from God. Life itself is his undeserved gift, let alone all the graces we are given to glorify God by building on the gifts he has provided.
The really important and forward-looking thing about this prophecy is that the Lord is calling his people to be more than just self-concerned or preoccupied with their status. They are to be a light to ALL the nations, so that God’s desire that all people be called to salvation can be fulfilled. For that task, God chose a people whose land kept getting overrun by everyone, a people who kept chasing off after other gods and idols, a people who kept imitating the pagans to whom they were supposed to be a light, a people who so often were perfectly happy being self-concerned and preoccupied with their status as the chosen people. Sound familiar? That’s not just Israel, that’s not just the Old Testament, that’s the New Testament, that’s the CHURCH, that’s you, and that’s me.
It might or might not have been the poet Ogden Nash who wrote the brief lines often attributed to him: “How odd of God to choose the Jews.” That little verse is not anti-Semitic. It concisely states something we find right in the Old Testament itself. As with the Jewish people, so with the Church: God does not necessarily choose the best and the brightest to be a light to the nations. The Twelve Apostles were eleven fishermen and a tax collector–not exactly a cabinet of Rhodes scholars or Nobel Prize winners. And the pattern continues, as I observe each morning as I stare at myself in the mirror once again and offer God the words of my morning prayer: “Well, I can’t figure it out, but You must know what You’re doing!” As Simon Peter said, falling on his knees before Jesus, “Leave me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” And to paraphrase Jesus’ response, he said, “You ain’t seen NOTHIN’ yet!”
And that’s where we are left with Jesus: along the Jordan River with John the Baptist pointing to the Lord and saying, “Behold, the LAMB OF GOD! There’s the One who takes away the sin of the world.” Just as “world” includes ALL people, ALL nations, so the word “sin” here includes ALL sins, theirs, yours, mine, and ours. All actions, words, thoughts, and attitudes that threaten to divide and destroy the human race whom God created and creates in love and for love. that’s what Christ comes to repair and restore.
We are likewise left with Jesus in company with St. Paul and his Corinthians as he writes to them: “You have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy.” The words of John the Baptist have echoed in the ears and hearts of the Christian faithful for two millennia now, every time we prepare to approach the Lord to be nourished with his Body and Blood, the fruit of his Sacrifice, in the Holy Eucharist: “Behold, the Lamb of God!” We are confronted with the Infinite Mystery every time the priest or minister of Communion holds up the Host and proclaims, “The Body of Christ!” to receive our acclamation and affirmation: “AMEN!” When we think of all that “AMEN!” means, our acceptance of Jesus, his acceptance of us, our commitment to share in his sufferings, his sharing in ours, we can have the utmost confidence in him as our Lord and Savior. Confidence, yes; but we’ll also know that we ought not approach the Sacrament nor utter that “AMEN” casually, ever again. “Behold, the Lamb of God!”