An Identity and a Mission

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

When St. John the Baptist sees Jesus coming toward him he declares, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Why did John say that? How is Jesus like a lamb? Under the Old Covenant, animal sacrifices were offered for sins. The symbolism was that the living animal, often an unblemished male sheep, was dying in place of the sinner who offered it. This prefigured what was to come. Jesus Christ, like a flawless, obedient sheep, hears and follows his master’s voice, He does the Father’s will, and takes our place in the sacrifice which actually forgives sins. This is why Jesus is rightly called the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

John the Baptist goes on to say, “He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’” Indeed, Jesus, as the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, existed before the universe itself. Through Him all things were made, and the things that came to be pointed to and culminated in Him. For this reason, it is not so much that Jesus resembles the lambs of Old Covenant sacrifices, but rather that God establishes the ritual of lamb sacrifice for sins in order to point to Jesus and his ultimate sacrifice.

The story of the life of Jesus appears in the New Testament, but the Holy Spirit has spoken through the prophets about Him throughout the Old Testament. For example, our first reading from the Book of Isaiah written several centuries before Christ, is one of hundreds of passages which speak of Him. But before we return to that passage again, let’s review a little historical background.

We read in the Book of Genesis that Jacob was Abraham’s grandson. Jacob was renamed “Israel” by God and fathered twelve sons. From these twelve sons the “twelve tribes of Israel” descended. This is why the names “Jacob” and “Israel” are usually interchangeable, and may refer to one person or to many. In Isaiah, the prophet writes, “The Lord said to me: You are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory. Now the Lord has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb…” To whom is God speaking in these lines? Who is the servant whom God formed from their beginning; the prophet himself, God’s faithful people, or Jesus Christ? There is truth in each of these interpretations, but this reading’s relevance to Jesus particularly shines forth. The prophesy continues:

It is too little, the Lord says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

Jesus is the one who brings light and salvation not only for the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but for all the nations on earth, to non-Jewish Gentiles like you and me through His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Another foreshadowing of Christ is seen in today’s psalm, written by King David one thousand years before Christ. Hear these words as if spoken from Jesus’ lips:

[Mere] sacrifice or offering you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me. [More of the former] burnt-offerings or sin-offerings you sought not; then said I, “Behold I come.”

In the written scroll it is prescribed [that is, it is foretold in the Scriptures.] For me to do your will, O my God, is my delight, and your law is within my heart!

I announced your justice in the vast assembly; I did not restrain my lips, as you, O Lord, know. I have waited, waited for the Lord, and he stooped toward me and heard my cry. And he put a new song into my mouth, a hymn to our God.

I fully suspect the 40th Psalm had an original, personal meaning for King David when he authored it, and these words have been prayed by God’s faithful people in a personal way ever since, but these words especially apply to the person and mission of Christ. After preaching God’s word to vast assemblies, obedience to his mission led Jesus to His Passion. After crying out for His Father to save Him, and waiting, waiting three days in the tomb, Jesus’ resurrection has put a new song in his mouth, a new hymn of praise to the Father in which we all have a part.

As I mentioned in my homily last week, by baptism you are baptized into Christ. And by remaining connected to Jesus Christ through his sacraments, He remains in you. The prophecies of Scripture refer not only to the human authors, like Isaiah or David, and they refer not only to Jesus, these passages’ fullest fulfillment, but also to us, His Bride and His Body, the Church in her members, the New Israel which comes to us through the twelve Apostles of Jesus. Hear those words of the Lord from Isaiah again:

You are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory. Now the Lord has spoken… that Jacob may be brought back to him and Israel gathered to him.”

Israel had been scattered, whole tribes of Jacob were lost due to sin and its consequences, but God Ever-Faithful used Israel, perfected in his Son, to gather his people Israel back to Himself. He says to us:

You are my servant, O Church of God, through whom I show my glory. Now the Lord has spoken… that the People of God may be brought back to him and the Church gathered to him.

God has purpose for your life. A purpose found in Christ. A mission to be faithful and fruitful in Christ. Jesus is still working to save souls today and he desires to work though each of us in His Body, the Church.

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