Take away the sin of the world

  • January 5, 2011
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Jan. 16 (Isaiah 49:3, 5-6; Psalm 40; 1 Corinthians 1:1-3; John 1:29-34)

What does it mean to be a servant? The word has been tarnished a bit in our own time for it conjures up the images of class and privilege. But in the spiritual sense being a servant means nothing more (or less) than doing the will of God consistently.

The mysterious and nameless Servant that Isaiah portrays is one who has been marked out for this mission from the moment he was conceived. He is addressed as “Israel” in a couple of instances, signifying that his actions and the fate of Israel are inextricably bound. His job is overwhelming: He is to restore and renew the people of Israel, who have been broken and spiritually compromised by the long exile in Babylon. But his mission goes far beyond that. In Isaiah the vision of a universal mission for Israel begins to unfold. Israel’s call from God is on behalf of all humanity. The servant is the model and paradigm for all who seek to love and serve God. It defined the life and ministry of Jesus and it should define the life of all who claim to follow Him. One’s response in faith to God’s call goes far beyond “getting saved” or going to heaven — it is a commitment for service to the world and to humanity. True religion is about service and compassion. Being a servant of God finds its finest expression in being a person for others.

Called to be saints — who can Paul be talking about? We usually don’t think of ourselves in terms of sainthood — it seems a bit grandiose and beyond our capabilities. But Paul is not using the term idly. He means all those who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus and all who claim to be His followers. He is not speaking of sainthood in the formal sense that we normally associate with the canonization of an individual. Paul’s view of sanctity differs a bit from our own for it is not a solitary quest for spiritual advancement nor asceticism or “self-help.” It is certainly not one’s personal achievement or possession. Only one was holy — Jesus — and the Lord imparted that holiness to those who remained united with Him in mind and heart. It was a process of transformation by means of the spirit and Paul refers to it often as being “in Christ.” Sanctity is an open invitation to all who are willing to surrender to the spirit. Mother Teresa insisted holiness is not the luxury of a few but the call of all Christians.

The words are so familiar: Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! These of course are the words of the Lamb of God in the liturgy. And this symbol is the unique contribution of John’s Gospel for it is only John who refers to Jesus in these terms. Even the chronology of Holy Week is different in John. The final meal is not portrayed as a Passover meal and unlike the other Gospels Jesus dies on the day of preparation for the Passover at the moment when the lambs in the temple are slaughtered. It is interesting the “sin” is in the singular — what is this one sin of the world? A careful study of John’s Gospel reveals that this sin is humanity’s ignorance of God, and its refusal to recognize that ignorance. All other sins flow from this fundamental ignorance and separation from God. As the Paschal Lamb Jesus takes away that sin and restores the personal knowledge and experience of God.

Sin is still very much a part of our world as is ignorance of God. But by our own selfless service and growth in awareness of God we too can continue the work of removing the sin of the world. The Servant of Isaiah and the Lamb of God are alike in that their thoughts and actions are in harmony with God. Rather than the usual New Year’s resolutions that tend to be focused on self, perhaps we can resolve to make their spirituality our own for the coming year. This will be a blessing not only for ourselves and others but for the entire world.