"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) January 19, 2020

Isaiah 49: 3, 5-6; Psalm 40; 1 Corinthians 1: 1-3; John 1:29-34

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

PRE-NOTE:

We have posted an essay by Lyle May, an inmate on Raleigh, North Carolina’s death row. In it he reflects on daily life on the row, what has given him hope and what frustrates and demeans him as a person. Go to our webpage and click on "Justice Preaching." There, at the bottom of the page, you can also find links to previous articles by Lyle. https://www.preacherexchange.com/justicepreaching.htm


WELCOME:

To the latest email recipients of "First Impressions," the parishioners who made the retreat at St. Francis Parish sponsored by the Dominican Laity of Raleigh, NC.


The passage from Isaiah today is the second of four Servant Songs located between chapters 40-55. Today’s song was addressed to the Israelites in Babylonian exile. The "you" being addressed is ambiguous – perhaps intentionally. Thus, one way of hearing the message is as a personal address to each of us. But, the "you" could also to be addressed to the nation of Israel. As God’s chosen servant she had been unfaithful to her covenant with God and had suffered the consequences. Babylonian armies had overrun the country and taken the most educated and talented citizens off into exile. They left the feeble behind, the cities destroyed and the land in ruins.

But while the people had given up on God, God had not given up on them. Even though the people proved unworthy, God still reached out to them. It seems nothing can squelch God’s love and on-going quest for us. God joins us in the exiles of our own making, renews the promise of fidelity, draws us out of the foreign places we find ourselves and shows us the way home – accompanying us each step of the journey. (The poet Francis Thompson described God’s constant pursuit of the lost soul in, "The Hound of Heaven.")

Israel will be brought back from exile, but God’s wonders will not stop there. The Servant will be given another mission, for God has still bigger plans for the people: they are to be a "light to the nations." There are to be no national, racial, ethnic or religious boundaries. God wants to rescue all people, the whole world, from exile and imprisonment. All nations, not just the Jews, are included in God’s plan. (In his letters Paul will proclaim, with amazement, God’s saving plan for the Gentiles.)

In our country’s "Pledge of Allegiance" we describe ourselves as "one nation under God." If we were to view our national identity through Isaiah’s eyes, we would have quite a responsibility, not only to our own people, but to the world. Our concern should be for more than our own well-being. As those called to be servants and looking through God’s eyes, we must reach out to people imprisoned in the darkness of poverty, disease, depression, war, etc, – whomever and wherever they might be.

We have a long way to go before we, as a nation, can be called a servant of God’s compassion and peace in the world. We could pray at this Eucharist for our country, asking God to help us hear God’s Word and be converted by what we hear, so that we can be a light to people living in the dark – our nation, the people of the world and our planet itself.

Early Christians were drawn to the Servant Songs of Isaiah and they saw themselves as a people called out of exile through Jesus, God’s obedient servant. Jesus was the sign of God’s compassion and justice to all nations – "that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth." The same Christians also saw themselves in the prophetic role of God’s servant, called and challenged to be a people of light; a sign of God’s outreach to all who dwell in any kind of darkness.

And isn’t that who we modern Christians are as well? In Jesus, we are called to be a "light to the nations,"so that God’s saving salvation may be felt "to the ends of the earth?" Being called a "light to the nations" doesn’t just emphasize our missionary activities as a church. If we are lights then we are on display all the time. Who we are as a faith community and how we interact among ourselves, will also be a message to those in exile, calling them out of their darkness into a loving community of faith. If we are faithful to our call, living as Paul describes us today, those "who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy...," then we will be the servant people Isaiah envisioned, a "light to the nations."

The gospel today makes a shift. Until now we have been focusing on John, Jesus’ precursor. Now the gospel, through the Baptist’s testimony, passes us from John to Jesus. But before we make that move, let’s linger a moment longer with John.

Imagine what John the Baptist had to go through in his ministry. It started when he received a call to announce the one coming after him who would be greater than he; one John names today as, "the Lamb of God." This was the one who would take away the "sin of the world." At first, John didn’t know who this one coming would be. He had to wait for a further revelation, as he testifies today, "At first, I did not know him…."

In fact, twice John admits, "I did not know him." John had to wait to see the Spirit descend "like a dove" and remain on Jesus. When that happened, then John would finally know the one he had been expecting and preparing the people to receive – the one who would "baptize with the Holy Spirit."

John had to work blind for a while. He received his initial call, then had to wait. But his waiting didn’t mean he sat down and did nothing. He got busy and acted on his call, trusting that when the moment came to see the fulfillment of his ministry God would show him what to do next. John reminds us of the Magi. They received a message when they first saw the star in the night sky. They responded, leaving home, to follow the message of the star. But they, like John, had to go a while before they arrived at their goal and recognized Jesus.

As the baptized, we are all involved in ministry. Some of us have "official positions" within the church, others respond privately to the needs around us. Each of us has heard a call to serve. Our lives are marked by these ministries and by the people who need us. But, in many ways, like John and the Magi, we work in the dark. Not only the in darkness of our world, but also in the darkness of our call. We invest ourselves in what we know we must do, but we have questions along the way: How much longer shall I continue to minister in this way? Am I in the right ministry for my talents? Why doesn’t what I do in service receive more official recognition? I thought after these years of ministry I would have made more of an impact. Looking back, did I receive a call at all, or was it my imagination, or vanity?

I don’t think some of these questions were foreign to the Baptist. He did have a keen sense of having been called. But then, he had to work until he got the next sign; the one indicating Jesus’ identity. Like the Magi, and like some of us, he journeyed without knowing the end results of his labors. But he anticipated that God would not leave him but would be there for him, at the appropriate time, to reveal the next step to take.

There is an end awaiting us; a time when we will see God face to face and there will be no more darkness. On this, we place all our hope. Until then, we continue our service in the Lord’s name. We stay committed to our faith community, especially when we gather in Eucharistic celebration. We also seek the Lord in regular times of prayer.

If we are to make significant changes – like the Magi’s packing up to begin a search or, like John’s fulfilling his mission – we will need guidance in our ministry. Then, we shall place ourselves in a more intensive listening mode through quiet prayer; reflective reading and even seeking the counsel of a wise person who can help us identify the call of the Lord in our lives. I am grateful to such people who helped me notice the descent of the Spirit at important and transitional moments of my life. Thankfully, someone was there to help me say, "I saw the Spirit come down like a dove…." Who are those people for you? Let us give thanks.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/011920.cfm