Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 16 January 2011
Isaiah 49:3, 5-6; Psalm 40:2, 4, 7-10; 1 Corinthians 1:1-3; John 1:29-34
I always imagine John the Baptist as a very intense, focused person, utterly caught up in his calling to be a herald of the coming of the Kingdom of God. He wasn’t just doing a job, he was living it. St Paul also seems to have discovered his identity and not just an occupation in his call to be an apostle of Jesus Christ. But what is truly amazing about both these men is how clearly they recognise and make room for others to fulfil their callings. They may be ‘men on a mission’, but they aren’t bulldozers or caught up in their own importance; they facilitate others. Paul writes to the Corinthian Christians to encourage and scold them into being that which they have been called to be. His concern in the letter will be to remind them of who they are in Christ so that they begin to live out of that reality.
The passage from the prophet Isaiah comes from what is often called a ‘Servant Song’, a text about the servant of the Lord which Christians apply to Jesus Christ. In the first instance, the servant is addressed as ‘Israel’. The calling to live in such a way as to reflect God’s glory to the world was the calling of the people of God as a whole. But, then as now, the people of God made a real hash of it. Therefore God’s faithful servant must live out that calling. The servant models a life which shows God’s glory to others in order to inspire God’s people and draw them back to their original calling to be a light to the nations and a means for God’s universal salvation.
A section from today’s psalm is also applied to Jesus by the New Testament writer to the Hebrews. The person who speaks in the psalm is aware of God’s salvation in his / her own life and commits to living a life of obedience and of testimony which will delight God and instruct others. We should not be content simply to recognise Jesus in these words. We should also have the courage to make them our own prayer. Jesus is our model and we are called upon to follow his example. The Servant in Isaiah was not to replace the people of God as the ones who reflect God, but to restore the people so that they could faithfully live out that mission.
John the Baptist recognised Jesus as the One he was proclaiming when he saw the Holy Spirit remain upon him. He goes on to describe Jesus as the one who baptises with the Holy Spirit. The people of God are the recipients of that baptism. If we have received the same Spirit that empowered Jesus’ ministry, then the work of Jesus in reflecting God’s glory should be continued in our own lives. In one sense, each of us has a different calling. We are given different personalities, gifts, opportunities and challenges. But in another sense, we all have the same calling: to live our lives in such a way that God’s glory, as that finds unique expression in our lives, is seen by the world. If we live out our calling faithfully, others will be enabled to do the same.