With this Sunday, we have plunged back into Ordinary Time. Actually, the plunge took place last Tuesday, since the liturgical celebration of Christmastide ends with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This year, that feast was celebrated on Monday, January 9, and the remainder of the week constituted the First week in Ordinary Time. Nevertheless, there are resonances with the Christmas season, just as Ordinary Time merged into Advent, as we focused at first on the return of Jesus in glory at the end of time. Now, as we begin to look at the ministry of Jesus, we start with the testimony of John the Baptist to Jesus, which was also part of what we heard in Advent and on the Feast of the Baptism. In addition, we hear again from Isaiah prophecies about the calling of the Messiah.
The first reading — Isaiah 49: 3: 5-6 — is one of the four passages which are called the Servant Songs. They are read during Holy Week. Although the passage seemingly begins as an address to Israel as the Lord’s servant, in the preceding and following verses, it refers to an individual. The servant’s mission is one which God intended for him from before his birth. He is to bring the nation of Israel back to the Lord. Beyond that, he is to be a light to the nations, to bring salvation to all the world.
The responsorial psalm — verses of Psalm 40, with a refrain based on verses 8 and 9 — we make our own the Messiah’s response the the Father’s call. He, and we, will do God’s will.
The second reading — 1 Corinthians: 1:1-3 — is in the customary form of of the beginning of letters at the time of Paul. The writer identifies himself: Paul. He adds identifying information and associates Sosthenes with himself. Next the addressee is named: the church in Corinth. Again, Paul expands the format by referring to their salvation in Christ, and noting that their call is one which goes to believers everywhere — just as the servant in the first reading is to bring salvation to the whole world. Finally there is a greeting: he wishes them grace and peace from God. Over the next six weeks, until Lent begins, we will hear further passages from the first four chapters of this letter.
The gospel — John 1:29-34 — is remarkable in the first place because Year A is the year in which Matthew’s gospel is read on most Sundays. John the Baptist uses the phrase “Lamb of God” to identify Jesus. This reminds his hearers of the events of Passover, when the Israelites sacrificed a lamb, whose blood protected them from the tenth plague of Egypt, the killing of every firstborn. Jesus, Mary’s firstborn and the Father’s only-begotten Son, will save us from destruction through his Passover sacrifice of himself. We don’t use the phrase often, but in Mass we address Jesus as Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world in the Gloria on festive occasions and before Communion at every Mass. Then, holding up the host, the priest says, “Behold the Lamb of God. Behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb.” This recalls the Israelites’ eating of the paschal lamb, whose blood protected them. The image of the Lamb is also frequently used in the Book of Revelation to refer to Jesus as the redeemer, slain on earth and triumphant in heaven.
Next, John refers to his earlier promise of one greater than himself who was to follow him. Jesus is the one he expected, and he knows this through revelation: at Jesus’ baptism, the sign God had promised happened. It is a sign which means that Jesus has been empowered by the Holy Spirit and will in turn confer that Spirit on others. making them sharers in his mission to bring salvation to the world — a call to which we responded in the responsorial psalm.