Sunday, January 19, 2020 • 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Liturgical Color: Green
First reading: Isaiah 49:3, 5–6
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 40:2, 4, 7–8, 8–9, 10
Second reading: 1 Corinthians 1:1–3
Gospel: John 1:29–34
For the first time since last November, we are seeing the liturgical color of green, the sign of vitality and growth. It won’t last for long this time, because the penitential season of Lent is coming up soon, but we can enjoy it while it’s here.
Sometimes we see an Old Testament prophecy bursting out all over in the New Testament. This week’s readings are a perfect example of this, showing the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in several passages and in several senses: the call, the enlightenment, the intimacy with God in the Church, and our own eternal destiny in heaven.
The prophet speaks, in the first instance, to the Israelites, the Chosen People, telling them that the various nations of the earth will come to believe in the true God because of them, so that all peoples may be saved. Thus God will be glorified throughout the entire world.
In the second instance, the words of the prophet (the words of the Holy Spirit) can also be understood according to the words of Jesus in the Gospel (Matthew 5:14–16):
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Basically, Jesus is telling the crowds, and by implication the Church, “The Kingdom of God begins with you, here and now,” bringing to reality what Isaiah had announced hundreds of years before in our first reading: “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
Now that the Israelites as a whole are beginning to recognize the sins of their past and are returning to the Lord as they return to their native land after the exile, the blessings of earlier times are beginning to return to them — but not in the material form they had expected. Instead, the blessings are spiritual and come to them in the form of forgiveness and intimacy with God. Relating this to Jesus, the blessing is truly “God with us” (Immanu-el, the Messiah’s name given in chapter seven of Isaiah) instead of the casting off of the Roman rule. For what he receives, the psalmist is thankful, proclaiming that “to do your will, O my God, is my delight, and your law is within my heart!”
Like the initial twelve, Paul was “called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.” But look at who else is called! “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.” Indeed, God calls all of us (not just the Christians of Corinth, which is only an instance of a universal blessing, according to the included words, “with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours”) to glorify God in our earthly lives. Isn’t this exactly what the prophet Isaiah was saying in the First Reading, centuries before?
Those disciples of John the Baptist who were destined to become disciples of Jesus were present the day before, when had John announced that “after me comes a man who ranks before me.” Now, today, they come face to face with that man, Jesus. John calls him “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” intimating that Jesus is somehow connected with the sacrifice of a lamb that the Jews are accustomed to offer at the feast of Passover. This will literally come to pass in a few years, but for the time being, nobody has an inkling what John is referring to. In fact, John tells us that he “did not know him,” evidently in the sense that he was not aware that his own cousin, Jesus, was the one until God revealed it to him at his baptism.
The Precursor does not mean to deny his personal knowledge of Jesus (cf. Luke 1:36 and Matthew 3:14), but to make it plain that God revealed to him the moment when he should publicly proclaim Jesus as Messiah and Son of God, and that he also understood that his own mission as precursor had no other purpose than to bear witness to Jesus Christ. – Navarre Bible Commentary
Although he was born six months after John, Jesus is called “greater” because he is the eternal Son of God become man. Later, after calling disciples to himself, Jesus will start baptizing with a call to repentance, like John, initiating his own public ministry. Baptizing with the Holy Spirit will come later, in a different context, but from the beginning it is Jesus’ disciples who baptize, and after Jesus’ ascent into heaven, it will again be the disciples who baptize on a different level, as the Church, Jesus’ mystical body on earth, is inaugurated.
Something that may escape us, unless it is pointed out, is the fact that John does not say that Jesus takes away “the sins of the world,” but that he takes away “the sin,” as if there were but one sin. Why is this?
The sacred text says “the sin of the world,” in the singular, to make it absolutely clear that every kind of sin is taken away: Christ came to free us from original sin, which in Adam affected all men, and from all personal sins. – Navarre Bible Commentary
These, then, are the steps God takes throughout history to bring mankind to himself, to be forgiven and reconciled, but also to be transformed and divinized, calling everyone worldwide to be worthy to enter heaven and live with God eternally. Here we have the final fulfillment of the prophecy we encountered in the First Reading.