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God's Word on Sunday: Everyone is called to be a light to nations

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  • January 12, 2020

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jan. 19 (Year A) Isaiah 49:3, 5-6; Psalm 40; 1 Corinthians 1:1-3; John 1:29-34

One of the most unsettling questions that we can ask of ourselves is: “Who am I, and why am I here?”

The answer is not always obvious and is often at odds with our everyday self-understanding. It is always a challenge to discard what is false and focus on who we are in God’s eyes and why God saw fit to place us on Earth. We might call this a spiritual reality check. 

In Isaiah’s prophecy, Israel is reminded of its identity and mission: to be a servant and to allow God to be glorified in its people. This prophecy was written in the Babylonian exile of the mid-sixth century BC, when the people of Israel were experiencing the consequences of having forgotten that calling. 

The tone of the prophecy shifts a bit and it is not clear to whom it is addressed. It appears to be an individual — someone about to be anointed for a mission — but it could also be a collective symbol for all Israel. No matter — God’s word is intended for more than one person. 

For the rest of the prophecy, God stretches the limits of mission. Merely calling the people back to the Lord or restoring the survivors of exile is not enough. Think big, God urges, think of all the peoples of the Earth. God intends to give either this individual or all Israel as a light to the nations. This is so that God’s salvation may be universal, reaching the end of the Earth. 

God had His eye on those called even while they were being formed in the womb. God’s plans for us begin long before we draw our first breath and for those called, God’s strength will be their support. Each one of us is called to be a light, even a small one, to the nations and to allow God to be glorified in us. That can be our guiding thought and intention for each day.

Who is a saint and how does one become one? If we ask Paul, we will receive an answer very different from what we might expect. For Paul, all those in the community who are living in Christ are called to be and are in the process of becoming saints. The key is a phrase Paul uses often — “in Christ” — which means that the sanctity comes from Jesus rather than the individual. 

It’s not a personal achievement. When one puts on the mind and heart of Christ and remains in Him through the Spirit, they are transformed and sanctified. It is allowing Christ to make one holy, and that is not as simple or easy as it sounds. All sorts of things fight every step of the way: habits, stubbornness, ego, fear, selfishness and laziness. Co-operating with Christ is hard work and not for the fainthearted!

John the Baptist’s mission was to witness to the One from God who was coming into the world. There was no room for ego or possessiveness in his work, for as soon as he bore witness to Christ, his job was to disappear. 

His mission is a model of our own. Our witness and work should be directed to Jesus and God, not to self. 

In the same way, the Church’s mission is to serve God and humanity, and should not be unduly concerned with institutional power, control, wealth or numbers. When we disengage our egos and desires from what we do, the results are far more fruitful and in harmony with the divine will. 

John recognized and proclaimed Jesus as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Note that “sin” is singular. A careful study of John’s Gospel reveals that for him there is one root sin affecting humanity — ignorance of God, even (especially) by those claiming special knowledge and wisdom. 

John insists that no one has ever seen God and that while Jesus is from above, we are from below — two radically different ways of existing. The only thing that joins these two realms, the earthly and the spiritual, is the Spirit, the gift that Jesus gives. 

Jesus came to lift that veil and enable access to God, even in this life, and to open the gates to the realm of the Spirit.

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