Sunday, 16 January 2011

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

As we age, we pick up food restrictions. For many of us, they are health related—like controlling cholesterol level, reducing salt intake and regulating blood sugar. People do ask me from time to time why I do not eat mutton or lamb. The short answer I give is: I eat the Lamb of God. Nothing else comes close. There is some truth to that. Today, our principal focus is the Lamb who takes the sin of the world. But, the events that gave rise to this designation “Lamb of God” is worth a second look. The sequence of these events took place over a period of some days. Three days to be exact. The first day, John encountered the priests and Levites of Jerusalem. They were dispatched there by the Jews. The second day is significant. John said, “Look, there is the Lamb of God”. Who was John talking to? The disciples? No, because the third day John was there again, this time with two of his disciples. John was staring hard at Jesus. Our Gospel is taken from the second day of the sequence. So the question to be asked is, if John was not talking to his disciples, then to whom was he talking to? Nobody which means everybody. It means that John was and is speaking to the reader and the listener: to each and every one of us. The Gospel is an encounter between the Lamb of God, John the Baptist and us. This encounter highlights the rôles played by these three and understanding them helps deepen our spirituality. The first rôle belongs to the Lamb of God as described in the first reading. He is the Servant that was referred to last Sunday; this Servant who will bring not only Israel back to God but everyone else. And rightfully so, the Gospel reminds us that the prophecy of Isaiah would be fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The second rôle is played by John the Baptist. From before Christmas until the Baptism of the Lord, John has featured on our horizon. And he continues to do so even this Sunday. [1] John’s rôle is to reveal the Christ. On this second day, rendered in the Jerusalem Bible as “the next day”, John points to the Lamb of God. The third rôle, where it involves you and me, is spelt out by St Paul in the second reading. The context of Paul’s letter was a divided Church struggling with issues of morality. He urged the Church in Corinthia to return to holiness. What should holiness be like? It is not just a state but also a description of a mission—a mission whereby Christians should strive for a full Christian life, imitating Christ, the Son of God, who gave His life for God and for His neighbour. This mission is actually the “job-description” of our baptism. In that way, John’s lifestyle make sense. Camel’s hair for his habit, locust for his food, and the desert for his home. They are not alternative lifestyle choices, the way we understand “alternative” today. Instead, he embraced self-denial so that he could be free for his mission. In an analogous way, we abstain and fast—not only from food but from pleasures of all kinds in order to free us from inordinate or immoderate attachment so that we can imitate Christ better. Unfortunately, our response to holiness is fear. We perceive it as unreal. Many think that it is impossible to embrace a life of true imitation of Christ. Or, if we accept it, we may restrict it to an exclusive club of saints or for many of us, we are waiting for the right time to embrace holiness. The second reading is a snippet from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians but, did you know that Paul may have written more than the two letters we know of? Furthermore, Clement, listed as Pope after Linus and Cletus in the Roman Canon of the Eucharistic Prayer, also wrote to the Corinthians. [2] The context of Clement’s Letter was Church dissension or disunity. He proposed a renewal of faith and an adherence to the traditions received from the Apostles. Paul with his many letters and Clement teach us that firstly, there is no “perfect” time to live holy lives. You cannot wait for it. Like Elvis once sang: It’s now or never. Second, holiness is a lifelong process that requires our daily assent. Your saying “yes” does not stop at “once”. You need to renew the assent day after day. Third, to say that it is impossible embrace a life in imitation of Christ reveals a poor understanding of holiness. This poor understanding is often observed at Confessions: “Why go for Confessions when I am going to sin again?” “You know Father, the last time I came for Confession, when I walked out I sinned again because I saw the person I hated and I cursed and swore at him under the breath”. When people question the need to go for Confession for “repeated” sins, they are in reality saying “Let me be holy first Lord, let me make myself perfect, so that I can stand worthy before you”. Holiness does not reside in the area of ability, capacity or expertise. It belongs to the world of desire, effort, perseverance or supplication. It is not about a capacity to make ourselves worthy but about us embracing godliness. It is not our gift to God but God’s gift to us. Our response to His gift is to repeatedly embrace it despite our weakness and failure. So, we embrace the life of Christ even when we fall repeatedly because ultimately it is God who will make us be like His Son. Holiness is the only rôle worthy of the Lamb of God.
FOOTNOTES: [1] He is one of the few saints in our Calendar who gets to have a Vigil Mass for himself on 23rd June, 24th being the Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist. And like his cousin, we get to celebrate both his birth and death. For all saints, with the exception of Mary, Joseph and John the Baptist, we only commemorate their deaths which are also their “births” into heavenly life. Mary knew not death and so we celebrate her Assumption. Joseph is only commemorated as the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary because we do not know when he died. Also note that the Solemnity of the two great Apostles, Ss Peter and Paul is also dignified with a Vigil Mass. [2] He is listed in this order, “Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian” in EP1. He was amongst the first generation of Church Fathers, who, according to St Irenæus had seen the Apostles, conversed with them and seen their traditions.