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God's Word on Sunday: We are sanctified by living in the Lord

  • January 13, 2023

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Jan. 15 (Isaiah 49:3, 5-6; Psalm 40; 1 Corinthians 1:1-3; John 1:29-34)

To whom is Isaiah’s prophecy addressed? Many of the prophetic texts of the Old Testament are difficult to follow, for the speaker and the addressee are often unclear. The ambiguity is at times deliberate, for a symbol can apply simultaneously to more than one person, situation or event. It appears that in this case the one given the divine mission of leading Jacob back to God was the mysterious and unnamed Suffering Servant. 

We do not know if this was a specific person or a collective symbol for Israel. In verse 4 — omitted in the lectionary — the disappointed and frustrated servant lamented that his efforts had been in vain. He was unable to turn the hearts of the people back to God and he felt that sense of failure keenly. But as is often the case, a seeming failure can be a prelude to something greater. God seemed unperturbed by the servant’s alleged failure for there was a far grander mission in store for him. Taking an expansive and inclusive God’s-eye view of the world, God intended to send the servant as a light to the nations. God’s salvation would then reach to the ends of the Earth — all would be welcomed and embraced. 

The prophecy referred primarily to people and events in the sixth century B.C., but prophecies have more than one life. This prophecy was the lens through which the early Christians saw Jesus — especially in the Gospel of Luke. In that Gospel, the universal nature of the salvation offered through Jesus Christ is a prominent theme, as is the emphasis on carrying the word to the ends of the Earth. Returning to the theme of prophetic ambiguity opens another interpretive aspect. We are also the ones addressed by the prophecy. We take part in God’s gift of redemption and as disciples, Jesus commands us to follow in His footsteps — even to the Cross. It is not just the Lord’s job to bring news of salvation and hope to the ends of the Earth — it is ours too.

Paul’s opening greeting in his letter to the Corinthians has much to teach us. He makes it clear that we are all called to holiness and sanctity. These are not the exclusive virtues of a few select individuals. This call to sanctification is for all who call upon the name of the Lord in any time or place. This will not be a personal achievement on our part, but as a gift of the Lord when we live constantly in Him.

Sanctification occurs when one receives the Spirit and dwells in it. 

John the Baptist was the advance man for Jesus. John prepared the way for Jesus by opening minds and hearts and raising hopes. John recognized that Jesus was the Spirit-bearer for humankind so that we might become as He is. Only in John’s Gospel was Jesus called the lamb of God, but the image reappeared in the Book of Revelation. 

In Isaiah, the Suffering Servant stood mute like a sheep before its shearers, so this is a likely association. Its use is puzzling since in the Old Testament, the Passover lamb was not an expiation of sin but a celebration of impending deliverance. Perhaps this was the reason for its use here — the sacrifice of Jesus would soon liberate humanity from the bondage of sin. But there is another intriguing detail: John speaks of Jesus taking away the sin — in the singular — of the world. 

Is there not more than one sin? In John’s Gospel, there is one root sin, and that is ignorance of God — ignorance in the sense of not knowing God directly and experientially. All other sins flow from this, for if we truly knew God, and not just about Him, we would not sin. 

Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus chides those who are certain that they have God all figured out and that they are conforming to the divine will. In chapter 16:7-11, Jesus promised His disciples that He would send the Paraclete — the Holy Spirit — who would prove the world wrong about practically everything. In John’s Gospel, Jesus invites us to participate in the life of the Trinity. 

The message from God is challenging — listen more, speak less and let the Spirit do the talking.