The Lord speaks to one of His spokesmen (such is a prophet), with a quite progressive message for the chosen people (for us); it announces that though they are chosen yet His purpose is to extend salvation to all peoples everywhere. This first reading is the second prophecy/poem about the Servant of the Lord, found in the part of the book of Isaiah put together during the Exile in Babylon. We have just a few of its verses read to us, but selected to make a very significant point: that the chosen servant is to be a light of the nations, so that salvation may reach to everyone – to the ends of the earth. We see this insight that struggled to develop throughout the history of the Jews before Christ, and still had difficulty being grasped in the early church – and perhaps in our church today. The universal love of God is now generally recognised in the teaching of various Christian denominations; but the practice of this love and of its implications is still a difficulty both for some sections of the church and for us individually. Imagine the situation of the Jews in Exile, hit by this message that God actually loves those enemies of theirs, and that they, being a light to the Gentiles, should show this love to them.
About the year 52 AD Paul writes to the Church/congregations in Corinth where he had originally preached. Though he intends to address some awkward issues with them, he opens the letter positively to these people called by God and prays for them to have grace and peace. He had preached the good news to them two years previously and his message was accepted by some Jews and by some Gentiles too. We note that he names his authority as him being an apostle and calls his fellow worker, brother, as Christians used to address each other. Each cluster of Christian believers is called by him Church, the original meaning behind the word is ‘gathering,’ what today we might call a congregation. The members are made holy through Christ, but are called to be holy within the wider community of all who profess the same faith. If this is the challenge they face then they need the final prayer in Paul’s opening greeting: God send you grace and peace! This was just a private letter to the church in Corinth, but it was probably read in other churches as well and hence got preserved and eventually incorporated into the collection of sacred writings seen as the Word of God to all – our New Testament. So we might read these words as addressed to our congregation, challenging us to this demanding but practical holiness – holiness, a word we might well be hesitant about.
In his Gospel John clearly reminds readers of the Baptist’s own words about the superiority of Christ. We notice that the word ‘sin’ in the ‘Lamb of God’ saying is singular and so implying all sinfulness in the world, which will be overcome by Christ. So in the gospel we have part of the account of the encounter between John the Baptist and Jesus. There were some early believers who treated the Baptist as though he were more important than Jesus; after all he seemed much more charismatic, dramatic and confident, as well as gathering a lot of attention from all ranks of society. So in this fourth gospel there is emphasis on the inferiority of the Baptist to Jesus; his role was really just to recognise Jesus, to point him out to others and to help his followers to convert from their previous way of living. Jesus has already been baptised by John and is now being pointed out to the crowd. The passage includes the well-known sentence: ‘behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’. The Jews before the destruction of the Temple were used to the sacrifice of lambs, and the Passover was a special meal of lamb commemorating the escape from Egyptian slavery centuries earlier. The fourth gospel was finalised quite late in the first century and so this phrase may refer to the Last Supper (probably of lamb) which Jesus had with his disciples and which was re-enacted in some way at early Christian gatherings and still is to this day in our churches in a less realistic way – with just a little bread and a sip of wine. That Last Supper was a symbolic expression of Jesus’ whole life given for the good of others, for the whole of humanity; it was a life shortly to be completed, ending with the crucifixion.
See Jeffs Jottings – Your calling