- Isaiah 49:3, 5-6. In this Second Song of the Suffering Servant the prophet is called to be a light to the nations.
- 1 Corinthians 1: 1-3. Paul sends greetings “to you who have been consecrated in Christ Jesus and called to be a holy people.”
- John 1:29-34. John the Baptist points to Jesus as the one “who ranks ahead of me… who is to baptize with the Holy Spirit.” John did not recognize Jesus at first.
Thoughts for your consideration:
Isaac Newton once commented with regards to his amazing accomplishments that “If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants”. This humble quote affirms the message that is being shared in this week’s lectionary readings. These readings flow from the readings that where just read this past week. They keep us within the moment of Jesus’ baptism and testify to the Divine mission of Christ in reconciling us with God. But each reading also offers a moment of humble recognition; recognition that we will not achieve the fullness of God’s Kingdom on our own. Instead the fruits of discipleship will be manifested by the generations that come after us. We must pass the baton of hope and the love of God to another generation that will build on top of our own meager achievements.
In chapter 49 Isaiah offers a statement of faith with regards to how he can possibly have hope with what appears to him to have been a failed ministry. Sadly, in the reading, verse 4 is omitted which tells us much about the Prophet’s own despair and ultimate hope:
Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, Yet my reward is with the Lord, my recompense is with my God.
By the end of his life Isaiah’s prophetic work appears to have been in vain. For all his attempt at bringing Israel into right relationship with God it seems that they will move in a different direction and in a very real way everything he did appears useless and in vain. But God comforts Isaiah:
It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel. I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
As chapter 49 continues God promises to Isaiah that His plan of salvation will continue with “the Children whom you had lost.” Another generation will build on the work that Isaiah has done and even though Isaiah may see everything he has accomplished as a failed mission through the lens of faith he accepts that God’s salvific design will reach the ends of the earth.
Paul’s greeting in the second reading is very brief but what it does tell us is that his apostolic mission is not about him. The church is far bigger then Paul. It is a community that is called to be Holy. His apostolic greeting does not betray any sense of preeminence. He is part of a body that is called the Church and his individual identity is swallowed up in this Holy community.
The Gospel story offers another interesting point. John attests to his ministry of preparing the way for the one “who ranks ahead of me”. Twice he mentions that he does not know him. He may have been surprised by the choice that was made. Keep in mind that in Matthew 11:2 John, who is at this point in prison, sends his disciples to Jesus with the question: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” John fully accepts that his role is to announce the Messiah but it may be possible that he was not prepared for the type of Messiah that ultimately came. Like Isaiah John has faith in the wisdom of Holy Spirit and the plan designed by God. He may have also had his doubts however as he awaits his execution in prison but Jesus assures him that all is indeed proceeding as planned.
Here we are two thousand years later and like John and Isaiah we may be excused in having our doubts as to how God’s plan is unfolding. The Kingdom of God, a society of perfect justice, true peace and in right relationship with all of creation, is not apparently in our midst. This is part of the great difficulty of working for a vision that is not our own. It requires faith. We can point to some achievements that have been made in the course of human history but we are far from completing this divine vision. And yet like Isaiah, Paul and John we are asked by God to see things not from our own immediate hopes and dreams but from a supreme vision that is patiently waiting for salvation to reach the ends of the earth. From our perspective we can be easily discouraged by the presence of violence and injustice in our world but this is when we are asked to step back for a moment and remember the unfailing hope and faith that our forbearers had and the social achievements that were made through their amazing perseverance. Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King may not have thought much of their own attempt in bringing God’s justice into this world but for us they have become legacies of hope and we can hardly ignore how they have changed our world. These are the giants whose shoulders we can now stand on to continue building the divine vision that they took part in. Our own faith should remind us that others will eventually be standing on our own shoulders.