Second Sunday of the Year
Thomas Merton said, ‘If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for.’ This question can be terrifying as it forces us to articulate what we truly believe and burn for. We are invited today by the gospel to join with people such as Merton and ask ourselves what and for whom we live? What do we long for?
Today John the Baptist points to Jesus: ‘Here is the Lamb of God!’ He acclaimed as the one to watch, to get to know, to hear and see despite the hint of failure expressed by John which is something no Jesus follower can escape. This was the case for St. Paul, Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero - and will be for us. Despite our perceived failures, God points us further down the road, to those doors that have opened far beyond the closed doors we already passed. John’s essential characteristic in today’s gospel is his humility. He was rousing, eccentric and ascetical but it was his humility that allowed him to recognise Jesus and his own prophetic call to testify.
John invites us into his own attitude of humble wonderment. First, listening to Isaiah as he did, we remember that we are created in God’s image and sharing God’s life is the reason for our being. Then, lest we ever settle for less or even just settle, John shows us how to open ourselves to the wonder of the God who is greater than we can imagine.
Pope Francis says, that we cannot allow fear of failure prevent us from going through ever new doors: ‘More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while outside people are starving and Jesus tirelessly repeats to us, ‘Give them something to eat.’’
Rev Jim Wallis, from Sojourners, in 2007, said that we all have a chance to alter two basic definitions of reality in our world: what is acceptable and what is possible. The inhumanities we can inflict on others, the injustices that seek redress; the failure to recognise those injustices all call for a change in the way we see what is at stake. The contradictions we have lived with and accepted or even denied get our attention and we decide they are no longer acceptable. The tolerable becomes intolerable. Unless we open our eyes and make decisions that matter, injustice and its consequences continue. How often do we ask is it okay that 3 billion people live on less than $2 a day; that our Government will be spend $2 billion on new fancy missiles to kill a perceived enemy but cannot fund people seeking jobs or repair our cracking health care system; that nearly 84 million people are displaced in our world; that we explore better ways of killing rather spend to care for peoples’ wellbeing, health and education; that First Nations people have no voice in what affects them in government decisions; that in many places we still ignore our violent history that has severely impacted on First Nations people; that we still have people in detention for more than 10 years without having committed a crime? One could list so many more.
However, we can recognise the presence of the Spirit when people ask these questions and when they seek to promote values of interconnectedness, peace, justice and equality. These questions testify to the presence of the Spirit in our midst. Today’s scripture readings focus our attention on the call to testify. God puts a ‘new song’ into the mouth of the psalmist – and our mouths - to announce justice. Isaiah was formed to deliver the vision of God’s promise of life and liberation. It was not just for the people of Israel but for all! It is to name what one sees, as did John the Baptist, when he sees Jesus. He proclaims what he sees and believes: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God.’ For a people hungering for justice, the ‘Lamb of God’ embodied the love, mercy and compassion God that knows no boundaries.
Testimony needs to be wherever there is a hunger for it. It is not the time for shrinking, for protests of inadequacy, unpreparedness, being overwhelmed, being too young, being too old, and not the right gender or race or orientation. Our testimony can bear great power, can live for generations in song, in word and deed, in raising up what we value, in passing on our shared memory to the next generation.
John the Baptist sometimes appears eccentric, but we need people who are willing to risk appearing eccentric because of their lifestyle and raise questions by their very presence. We need people who will speak out when they see injustice. We need people who wrestle with ethical issues and provide answers to conscience-enquiries: ‘what can I do – what must I do’? Just over 60 years ago, Pope John XXlll invited people of good will to look for the ’signs of the times’ – places where the Spirit brings new life even in the most uncompromising circumstances. In the encyclical, Pacem in terris, written during the Cuban missile crisis, he promoted the possibility of peace through nonviolence, focused on workers’ rights, the advancement of women in society, and the aspirations of previously colonised people seeking independence. These continue to be relevant as we need to see the presence of the Spirit in actions to protect God’s creation and the environment, the work in many countries to abolish the death penalty, the broadening of what it means to be ’pro-life’, the growing insistence that war is no longer acceptable to resolve international disputes. In recent decades, the creative power of nonviolence has been rediscovered. We have a revision of what is acceptable to what is possible. This involves following the tugs of conscience, making our voices sharper and clearer, listening to the language of the heart and humanity rather than the language of so-called ‘respectable’ economic or political forces. Unfortunately, many people believe that change is not possible which can result in cynicism, loss of hope and self-protection.
The darkness that Isaiah felt was not unlike the powerlessness many people experience as they confront pandemics, personal and domestic crises, as well many ecological, political, economic crises. They found hope by taking action because though their/our efforts may seem fruitless, or seem to fall short, God is still working in our lives and the lives of others.
Answering Jesus’ call to follow is a daily decision. It might entail decisions about deciding to try a little kindness in our encounters with people even if they do not respond, our consumption, what and how we buy, what we drive, where we live, what we eat, how we use energy, how we work, how we treat others and how we care for ourselves. Pope Francis reminds us that discipleship is about recognising that faith is about our interconnectedness with all creation and with each other. It is not an individual journey but connects us to community. We are brought face to face with others, and our choices and lifestyles impact on others.
As Jesus lived out his call, he manifested God’s borderless love, mercy, and compassion. Isaiah attests that God desires ‘life’ and peace for all peoples and nations expressed as tender love and compassionate care for the outcast. As we begin a new year, we might live in such a way that others will see God’s love made flesh in and through our lives - ordinary women and men who are simply being truly human and that our humanity is bound up with others. ‘Look, there is the Lamb of God!’ This is the one Pope Francis points us to. He has also made his own in so many ways the Psalmist’s words ‘….a new song in my mouth’ as mentioned above.
We might say that the Spirit has descended on a person passionately determined to follow Jesus and reflect his light, love, peace and mercy to all people by making a ‘preferential option for the poor’ with justice and mercy the main themes of his ministry. As we face threats to peace, he completely rejects war as a solution to conflict; he severely criticises weapons manufacturers and their possession, and challenges the corporates who advocate free market solutions to the detriment of the poor. The Scriptures this Sunday hint that our calls from God are dynamic, and that they often come through the words of others, inviting, encouraging and challenging us to claim our gifts with confidence.
The song, as mentioned in the Psalm, is the song of justice, the song of fraternity and sorority that God has put in our mouths and placed in our hearts - believers or not. This can only be lived out in vulnerability that makes space for others to enter rather the rigidity that closes in on oneself - the cause of ‘minefields’ of hatred and misunderstanding.
God of Many Names,
help us to honour and claim our identity in you.
You above all others know us best.
Help us to be our true selves,
embodying you as we are without guilt, shame or blame.
Our actions and works call us to places where we wonder,
where is God?
Allow us the time to stop and
know that you are as near to us as our next breath.