Isaiah 49:3, 5-6; 1 Corinthians 1:1-3; John 1:29-34
Our first reading from Isaiah follows several chapters of Isaiah’s promises of deliverance to King Hezekiah and the words that the Lord has spoken about the Assyrian invaders. Now, the Lord speaks directly to Isaiah and makes him a promise—that he will raise him up to be a light to all nations, to restore not only Israel but all the nations. The despair and disbelief that the tribes of Jacob had once exhibited were reversed due to King Hezekiah’s faith and his prayers to the Lord. Isaiah communicates Judah’s deliverance. And now the Lord says, “But wait, there’s more!” Isaiah is not just a light to the tribes of Judah but to all nations. And his prophecies are a light. They’re the most frequently cited prophecies in the New Testament, and they all point to Jesus Christ.
Like Isaiah, St. Paul is called to be an apostle by the will of God. What is an apostle? One who is sent to deliver a message, and in this case, a message of good news—evangelion. We didn’t see the good news that Isaiah took to the tribes of Jacob, but that was his mission as well. Isaiah was a pre-Christian apostle, one sent by God to be a light to Israel and to the nations. There would be more lights: Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and many more. And then there would be those lights who followed Christ Himself: the Apostles and St. Paul.
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was just one of several epistles he wrote to that church—scholars believe there were four in total but only two exist in our possession. Now Paul’s letters—especially to the Corinthians—often followed this outline:
· Grace and peace to you
· I thank God when I remember you
· Hold fast to the Gospel
· For the love of everything holy, stop being stupid
· Oh, and Timothy says hi
I have to credit the hive mind of the internet for that joke, but it is spot on. And as it happens, his letters would not be the last to follow this outline. Clement’s First Letter to the Corinthians follows the same outline. St. Clement of Rome was the third successor to St. Peter as bishop of Rome and one of the Apostolic Fathers. Definitely look him up if you’re interested in what the early Church taught.
St. Paul’s letters can sometime be complex and difficult to understand, as even St. Peter acknowledges in 2 Peter 3:16. But in this introduction to First Corinthians, he is absolutely clear in the expectation he sets for the Corinthians: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.”
St. Paul is saying, “You are sanctified in Christ and called to be holy along with all who confess Jesus as Lord.” And that’s my message to you. You are called to be holy. Holiness is not a calling to clergy and religious alone. All of us are called to holiness. So for the love of everything holy… let’s stop being stupid, and start being holy.
Now, of course, I’m just riffing on that internet meme, but we as the Church aren’t stellar in how we pass on the faith. The latest polls on religion in the US show a dramatic increase in people who identify themselves as “none” (having no religious affiliation). The latest polls specifically on Catholics in the US show that only a minority believe in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. These failures are not because the information isn’t available. These failures are due to the lack of lights shining. Evangelism isn’t just a light for gentiles. It’s a light for those who have forgotten and for those who have not been taught properly. Evangelism is the obligation of every Christian, especially to nonbelievers.
Are we being light to an unbelieving world?
In our gospel reading, we get another revelation of Christ to the world. Recall last Sunday the Feast of the Epiphany, which was the revelation of Christ the King to the Gentiles. And immediately on the heels of that Feast we celebrated the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus, which was the revelation of Jesus to the Jews. All of this we get within this period which the Church has long called Christmastide, which extends from the Christmas Vigil until Candlemas, which we also call the Feast of the Presentation. The whole Christmas season is a celebration of the revelation of Christ to the world.
Now, this passage has a lot of information to unpack, but I want to note how John the Baptist identifies Jesus: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” To grasp what John is communicating here requires us to look at other passages in scripture that use the figure of the lamb. First and foremost, we can look to Exodus 12, where the Lord tells Moses and Aaron to instruct the Hebrews to sacrifice a year-old male lamb and to take some of the blood and put it on the lintels of their doors. This is the paschal lamb to which Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 5:7. Both of these images align with Isaiah 53:7: “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter[.]” And while there are many other parallels, I will leave you with this last from Revelation 5:7: “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth[.]”
Wow. You see, if you study scripture with a guide, if you pay attention to those footnotes with all of the cross references, and if you read with an eye toward recognizing the patterns and figures in scripture, you get a lot! It also really helps if you study a little Greek and Hebrew so you can dig deeper. That said, I know a lot of us don’t have the time, but we can benefit from the knowledge of others, so seek out good bible studies, commentaries, and teachers.
So Jesus is the paschal lamb, which is a sacrifice. Jesus’ paschal sacrifice is what the Church celebrates in the Passion at the Sacred Triduum: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil. And a sacrifice not only has to die, it has to be eaten. Jesus becomes our food, our sustenance, and we in turn become what we eat. We become through communion the Body of Christ.
And a sacrifice is nothing if it is not also holy. Jesus is the summit of all holiness and the true light of the nations. With the dawn of the light comes a call to follow after Him, just as Jesus called His disciples to follow Him. What does it mean to follow Him? Does it not also mean to become as He is? Just as our communion changes us, to follow Him is to be changed into Him in some radical sense. And we do that by becoming the light as he is the light.
So I’ll ask you again, are we being light in an unbelieving world? Are we radiating that love Jesus radiated to the poor and hungry, the sinners and tax collectors? When we receive this Eucharist, it should change us and make us more like Him, but do we do what He did?
I must acknowledge that I am not always radiating that light as He did. I’m not always being Jesus to my neighbor, as much as I want to. But that’s what the call to follow means. We have to take what we receive here and take it to those who otherwise will not see and will not hear it. That is the mission of the Church, and that is the mission into which each of us is baptized. We have to be a light to the nation in which we find ourselves.