Year A: Second Sunday Ordinary Time
John the Baptist’s Testimony to Jesus
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’ I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.” John testified further, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove* from the sky and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”
- John’s witness to Jesus Christ has become part of the communion Rite at Mass. What do the words Lamb of God you take away the sins of the world… mean for you when you say them?
- How do you feel about the role of evangelizing your faith to others? In what ways do you see yourself “pointing Christ out to others” as John did? Is it hard to move beyond your comfort zone with this?
- Where have you been challenged to use your gifts in response to God’s call? Has anyone pointed out special gifts they see in you, gifts that could be used as a witness and service to others?
Sr. Mary McGlone CSJ
When we meet John the Baptist in this reading he has already proclaimed that he was not the Messiah but the one preparing the way. The fourth Gospel is careful to present Jesus as distinct from and never subservient to John, even to the point of avoiding the mention of a personal encounter between the two. John simply appears as the forerunner of the one to come. At the same time, the Baptist describes his own faith experience regarding Jesus: “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove …and remain upon him.” According to Scripture scholar Juan Matias (El Evangelio de Juan), John’s description of that descent is like that of a dove seeking its own nest: John saw the Spirit come home to rest in Jesus.
Because John recognized the Spirit’s presence in Jesus, he called Jesus the Lamb of God. That title, so familiar to us, occurs only here in the Christian Scripture. The unique feature of the Baptist’s phrase is that Jesus is the Lamb of God. As this Gospel describes it, John the Baptist’s relationship to Jesus was always, “He must increase, I must decrease,” and John’s proclamation that Jesus came from God acknowledged that clearly. John recognized that his vocation was different from Jesus’. While Jesus is the obvious subject of this selection, we might actually learn more about our vocation from John the Baptist. Outspoken and strong as he was, John knew and admitted his limitations. He said, “I did not know him,” and yet, he dedicated his life “that he might be made known to Israel.” That is a profound expression of humility. It presents John as a servant who knew what it meant to be an apostle. John was simply the one sent to open the way to more than he could imagine.
This week’s readings lead us into the season of Ordinary Time with a reflection on who we are called to be as Christians. They remind us that being a Christian is never a solo performance. We are called together, formed by the word of God to become a light to the nations. Like John the Baptist, we are called not for ourselves, but to be able to point out the Lamb of God to others. When we know and accept that vocation, we can call ourselves the church of God in our own hometown and in our world.
A Clear Call?
When I graduated from high school in 1980, my godmother gave me a gift that was truly puzzling: Betty Crocker’s Cookbook. I had no interest in cooking, and it was difficult to imagine how such a quaint book could have any relevance in my life.
As an 18-year-old woman, I had not yet sensed a “call” or vocation, yet my godmother saw future possibilities that were not on my radar: a wife and a mother. Now the cookbook’s well-worn pages testify to where and when I was responding to an ever-evolving call. Some pages hold memories of the necessity of finding recipes to create frugal meals when money was tight. Other sections help recall the satisfaction of following step-by-step instructions for canning vegetables and baking bread “from scratch,” and sticky pages trigger warm memories of baking desserts for a mom’s bible study. That quaint, puzzling gift was a confident statement about my future calls, and a certain expectation that I would offer nourishment to others.
The Scriptures on the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time are a reminder of how frequently it is family, friends or mentors who will recognize our latent gifts and offer us a glimpse of where we will be called to serve. Our often-foggy vision gains a bit of clarity when others – through their confident words and actions – empower us to claim our gifts, to take on new responsibilities, and to accept that we, indeed, are being called by God.
In the Gospel, we hear John the Baptist boldly and confidently proclaim Jesus as the “Lamb of God” and the “Son of God.” These powerful titles lent the weight of authority and credibility to Jesus as he begins his public ministry. Not only did he establish Jesus’ solid credentials, John stated that Jesus “ranks ahead” of him. If Jesus ever struggled with discouragement in his calling because of the incessant attacks by religious leaders, or if the frustrations of not being understood by his closest friends and relatives wore him down at times, it must have been a source of strength to recall the words of the Baptist in this encounter, and the assurance that John saw the “Spirit descend and remain” on him.
As Jesus lived out his call as the “Lamb of God” and “Son of God,” he witnessed that God’s love, mercy and compassion knew no boundaries. While John the Baptist initially recognized that Jesus “might be made known to Israel,” the words of the prophet Isaiah in the first reading attest that God desires salvation for all peoples and nations. This passage underscoring the servant’s awareness that his call had a wider scope than originally anticipated may have been in Jesus’ mind and heart as he brought God’s tender love and compassionate care to the outcasts, the unclean and the Gentiles. Jesus responded to a “call within a call” – the phrase St. Teresa of Calcutta used to explain how her unique vocation unfolded – as a “light to the nations,” as
Isaiah foretold, his call extending far beyond Israel.
The Scriptures this Sunday hint that our calls from God are dynamic, and that they often come through the words of others, inviting, encouraging and challenging us to claim our gifts with confidence.
The readings this Sunday invite us to reflect: What figurative “cookbooks” are within our power to give to others, encouraging their calls to be a source of nourishment? Like John the Baptist, can we endorse and lift up the gifts of others, knowing that their light may eclipse our own?
Lorrain Senci is Pastoral Associate for Pastoral Care and Spirituality at St. Paul Catholic Parish of Highland IL