past weeks we have been celebrating liturgically various stages of the relationship
God has with us. The “Initial” introduction was to Mary through an “Annunciation.”
The “Material” introduction was made at the “Nativity.” The “General”
introduction was made through the “Magi.” The “Official” introduction
was made last week through the “Baptism.”
We are praying through this liturgy with the “Personal” introduction of Jesus
by John the Baptist. We are invited to begin our deepening of this ancient
relationship. We pray with both our eagerness for and reluctances to, a relationship
which involves our commitment to the mystery of our being loved. We pray
with the awareness that God reverences our reluctance and comes close enough
as only to attract us to that relationship. We have a year of time and we
are always beginning and God is never-ending.
Our First Reading is taken from the Second Servant Song as presented by the
Prophet Isaiah. The previous verses of the chapter contain an announcement
to all the distant lands that some “one” this Servant” was
called by God even from the womb. The historical context for the reading
and for the entire fifteen chapters which form the second part of the Book
of Isaiah is the Exile or Captivity. The people of Israel were God’s servant
once and now while they are exiled, a certain “one” is being called to free
The second part of this reading extends the embrace of God’s love beyond
the people of Israel. The Magi came, worshiped and went back differently,
changed. Jesus is given as light to all the nations. It is not enough for
this Servant to restore Israel and the survivors of the Exile back to their
land. This Servant is to extend the saving-love of God beyond all boarders.
The Servant is to bring this light to all so that the glory of God may be
At the time of the writing of John’s Gospel there were parties who were promoting
various candidates for being accepted as the Messiah. The Temple had been
destroyed and the big question was about what was going to replace it as
Israel’s center of identification.
Our verses for today’s Gospel make a strong opening statement about John
the Baptist’s not being the Messiah and even a stronger statement that Jesus
is the very one whom He, The Baptist, has been looking for. He is the Victim-Lamb
Who is meant to take away all sins. He will baptize more than just with the
water of John’s baptism, but with the creational Spirit of God’s Holy Love.
The Baptist ends by making a personal testimony to which John the Evangelist
invites his readers to make after reading his Gospel.
We have three more Sundays of Ordinary Time before Lent begins on February
ninth. We will be having a short introduction to the person, personality,
and mission of this Jesus Who makes His personal arrival and introduction
in today’s Gospel. He is the Servant Who keeps coming to identify us all
as God’s Holy Dwelling Place.
We have accepted Jesus as the messiah; these next weeks begin our interiorizing
the person of Jesus as more than an interesting idea.
A few years ago I was offering some presentations on prayer to a group of
Ministers. During lunch an elderly fellow approached me and asked for some
private time. He closed the door of a near-by room very secretively and turning
to me asked in a circumspect tone of voice, “Aren’t you making prayer a little
too, well, personal?” Of course I smiled and did hear what his question was
really about. God is all about us; Jesus came to make us the center of His
saving love. Such statements can sound too much about us, that’s true. Some
how God is suppose to be at the center of our lives, but God does not need
anything from us and we need everything from God. Each of us is loved personally,
intimately, and yet uniquely by God. The question remains about who is central
in the experience of praying.
John saw Jesus coming toward him. John was central to Jesus’
attention and mission at that moment. At the end of today’s Gospel, John
sums up his awareness; Jesus is the “son of God.” The Baptist states that
he knew himself more by having Jesus making him central. By knowing himself,
he knows that God is central. Not so confusing. When you are loved by somebody
whose love makes you special, your response is that by your reception of
that love, you want to make the other central to you by making that person
Jesus has been born for us; He will die for us and rise for our personal
rising. These next weeks we will watch Him and listen to Him offering us
love personally. We are invited to take it in slowly so that by our being
specially-loved, as was the Baptist, we too will say in words and speak with
our actions, that Jesus is at the center. If He is not there right now, perhaps
it is because we have not allowed ourselves to be at the center of His coming
towards us with love.
Is prayer too personal? I think it is for us who are frightened of giving
up our being so central to ourselves. Jesus does ask for room in our lives,
but our egos have had a long-term lease on that space.
“The Lord has prepared a feast for me- given wine in plenty for me to drink.” Ps. 23