That part of the liturgical year called Ordinary Time (in Latin, Tempus per annum) has begun. It comprises 33-34 weeks outside the major seasons, Advent and Christmastide and Lent and Eastertide. This year, the Solemnity of the Epiphany was the first Sunday, at the head of the first week in Ordinary Time, and Monday marked the Baptism of Our Lord. Historically, Jesus began His public ministry after His Baptism at age 30. So, it is only fitting that the readings of the second Sunday should touch on that primordial light of Christianity.

In the First Reading (Is 49: 3, 5-6), who is that “Servant” chosen to unite the scattered tribes of Israel and to enlighten the world with His Word? The Old Testament refers to several as “servants of the Lord”: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Isaiah, Job, Nebuchadnezzar; and even God’s chosen people, Israel, often called ‘Jacob’.

While it is no wonder that that title should refer to Israel, eventually it has more specifically come to represent Jesus Christ: “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Although he was “crushed for our iniquities”, as Isaiah had said (cf. Is 53) that he would be, Christ accomplished His salvific mission. Christianity is the world’s largest and most widespread religion, with over two billion followers representing one-third of the global population. Yet, given that the light of divine revelation is still waiting to envelop the world, there is no room for complacency. Rather, it behoves us to be God’s instruments and say: “Here I am, Lord! I come to do Thy will.”

In fact, it is the vocation of every Christian to walk in Christ’s footsteps and do His will without fear or favour. If God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom 8:31). The Psalm teaches us that He is always by our side, stoops down to us, hears our cry, and turns our cry into song. What is more, He asks not for sacrifice and offerings but for a listening ear and a willing heart. If we only delight in His law from the depth of our hearts – where God’s law is engraved – we will see that He is our only hope and salvation, and proclaim His justice in the great assembly.

In this regard too, St Paul set a noble example to all generations. In a self-introduction to the Corinthians (1: 1-3), he announced that God had called him to be an apostle. He dared to establish a community in a city steeped in corruption, urging sinners to become saints. Thus, the local church of Corinth was symbolic of the universal Church in the making. He warmly encouraged his people to persevere in holiness, for God is holy. What a lesson to be learned by us who so easily get discouraged and begin to falter!

Holiness is a sweet challenge, and only a life of faith, hope and charity can help us attain it. To this end, we must be an alter Christus, ipse Christus – another Christ, Christ Himself! St John the Baptist, who knew the path to salvation, never ceased to say, ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord’. And although, in his own words, he was unworthy to untie the Lord’s sandals, he baptised Him in the Jordan, “that He might be revealed to Israel”. Curiously, Jesus and John, though relatives, did not know each other closely; one had grown up in Galilee and the other in the Desert. Nonetheless, John instantly saw Jesus was the Messiah, when the Holy Spirit descended and remained on Him, as preannounced to him by the Heavenly Father.

“The Holy Spirit had rested upon Jesus, not only to bear witness outwardly to the grace which abounded within Him, but to exercise an active influence over Him,” says the Abbé Constant Fouard in his classic work La Vie de N.S. Jésus-Christ (1880). “And therefore, so soon as the Christ had received this consecration He was ‘led by the Spirit’, St Matthew recounts; ‘led on into the wilderness,’ says St Luke; ‘sent out’, borne away, driven ‘into the desert’, according to St Mark”[1]. Over there, as is well known, the Son of God came out eminently triumphant from a threefold attack waged by Satan. And however much we may shudder to wonder how God allowed Himself to be tempted by the devil, we should also marvel at how He came out unscathed, “for having taken no part in the perversion of our humanity”[2].

On Jesus’ return from a forty-day stay in the Judean wilderness, where he had prayed and fasted, in close preparation for His public ministry, St John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him. It was here that the Precursor presented Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, as today’s Gospel passage (Jn 1: 29-34) tells us. To the Jews pursuing John it was evocative of the oracle uttered by Isaiah: “The lamb standing dumb before his shearers, the Man of Sorrows, Who shall bear the sins of the people.” (Is 53: 3) In other words, John was referring to his cousin Jesus, not as a mere symbol of the traditional paschal lamb but as the One who would be immolated on the Cross.

“And I have seen and borne witness that this is the Son of God,” stated the Baptist, very confidently. Should not you and I too respond to the primodial light of our own baptism and bear witness to Jesus Christ, that He may always be “a light to the nations” and His “salvation may reach to the end of the earth”?

[1] Cf. Jesus Christ the Son of God, by Abbé Constant Fouard, translated from the French by George F. X. Griffith; published by Longmans, Green & Co. and reprinted by Don Bosco, Goa, 1960, p. 83.

[2] Op. cit., p. 84.