Almighty ever living god, who governs all things, both in heaven and on earth, mercifully hear the pleading of your people and bestow your peace on our times... Collect for the Second Sunday
First Reading: Isaiah 49:3, 5-6 Responsorial: Psalm 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10 Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:1-3 Gospel: John 1:14A, 12A
A Powerful Hunility by Msgr. Richard Henning
Would you rather be the Lord of the manor or the servant “under the stairs?” In relationships shaped by social, economic, and/or political dominance, some rule and some resent. And while we might honor service, we are less likely to honor a servant. On the other hand, there are other kinds of relationships where we might find ourselves willing, even eager to be servant to another. When we love another, doing good for them does not leave us feeling belittled or lesser. On the contrary, loving service magnifies our souls. The scriptures this Sunday invite us to be this kind of servant.
The return of the people of Judah from exile in Babylon brought new challenges. Returning to a ruined land and beset by opposition from the neighboring lands, many began to lose hope that they might ever rebuild the temple and the nation. Isaiah 40 marks a shift in the tone of the Prophet’s work. The verses offer encouragement to a despairing people, reminding them of what the Lord has done for them even as it promises new wonders. In this passage, we hear from the second of the famous “Servant Songs” of Isaiah. This particular song offers and unusual kind of encouragement – even as the Servant feels overwhelmed by the task at hand, the Lord expands the scope of his mission. More than the restoration of Judah and Israel, he is now charged also with a mission to the gentiles. This additional burden is in fact encouragement because it becomes clear that the servant is chosen and graced by the Lord.
Psalm 40 is a fitting accompaniment to vision of the servant’s mission. This assertion of confidence in the Lord permits the supplicant to submit in trust and love to the will of God. Far from being the diminution or loss of self, this surrender is a delight and a source of strength.
In the second reading, we hear Paul’s greeting to the Corinthians (he authors the letter with Sosthenes). The overall theme of this lengthy letter is the unity of the Church in Christ and the submission of all personal egotism and authority to the Christian mission. In these opening lines, Paul’s greets the “Church of God that is in Corinth.” This phrase cuts two ways. It humbles the Corinthians by reminding them that they are part of a larger Church – it seems they considered themselves unique and even superior. At the same time, this phrase places the gentile church of Corinth on the same level as the longer established Jewish Christian churches of the East – “with those everywhere who call upon the Lord Jesus Christ.” All Christians, including these newcomers in Corinth are set aside, consecrated to Christ and called to be holy. They must, like the Psalmist, give themselves over in trust to the work of God.
In the gospel passage, John the Baptist models humility founded on love. He makes it clear that he is subordinate – that he is not the Christ. But this does not diminish him. His prophetic identification of the Lord brings John to his truest, fullest self. And notice that even the Lord here teaches the wisdom of humility. This proclamation uses the image of the Lamb. Looking back to the same language in the Servant Songs and forward to Jesus’ self offering at Passover, the image promises that Jesus’ life and ministry will bring release from sins. And this “service” of humanity forms part of a larger surrender to the gracious will of the Father. The Spirit “remains” with Him. This Johannine term (in older translations “abide”) bespeaks the communion that exists between the Father and the Son. It is the same communion to which the disciples will be invited. Here, john has the privilege of seeing this transforming relationship and knowing its power.
These readings touch on the identity and mission of the servant of the Lord. The gospel focuses on the Servant Who is Jesus, but all of the readings prophetically reveal the identity of all those “who call on the Lord Jesus.” We are called to a humble submission to the Divine Will. From that submission flows our mission to participate in the reconciling work of the Savior. But this humility does not denigrate us, but magnify us. Its power is in the free gift of self in love. There is no greater gift, no greater authority, no greater power, than humble testimony to the Lord and submission to His gracious will.