First Reading Isaiah 49:3,5-6 Second Reading 1 Corinthians 1:1-3
Gospel John 1:29-34
Today we hear the story of what John the Baptist witnessed when Jesus, his cousin, approached him in the river Jordan where John was baptizing those who came forward. Last Monday we heard Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism. The two accounts differ because the evangelist we hear today does not describe the baptism. Instead, in John’s account, John the Baptist announces that he knows that Jesus is the Son of God. He cries out, giving witness about who Jesus is. He says that he saw the Spirit descend upon Jesus. By this sign, John the Baptist knew that Jesus was the one who was to come after him.
We hear two familiar titles for Jesus. John calls Jesus the “Lamb of God” and the “Son of God” identifying Jesus’ ultimate purpose is to redeem humanity. We need to know who Jesus is, if we want to be his disciples. We also need to know what his mission is, if we want to be good disciples.
Why is Jesus called by this strange title, the Lamb of God? It refers back to the origins of the great Jewish feast of the Passover that commemorates when the people were told, in order to escape punishment, that they should smear the doorposts of their houses with the blood of a lamb. When God’s angel struck, he passed over the blood-painted houses of the Israelites and their children were spared. They had, in effect, been saved by the “blood of the lamb.” The lamb then becomes the sign and symbol of the liberation of God’s people from slavery and oppression. But for us – and this is what John the Baptist’s means – Jesus is the new Lamb which brings freedom and liberation.
The purpose of John’s baptism was to make Jesus known to Israel. John’s witness is an excellent example of what it means to be a disciple. By our Baptism, we are called to be disciples – to make Jesus known to all the world by our words and by the witness of our lives.
This Wednesday we will begin the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The theme for 2017, “Reconciliation – The Love of Christ Compels Us” was chosen to mark the 500th anniversary year of the beginning of the Reformation. Two accents are reflected: the main concerns marked by Martin Luther’s Reformation and our recognition of the pain of the subsequent deep divisions which continue to afflict the unity of the Church. Christians are encouraged to pray and to view this week as a first step toward reconciliation.
Each year on his birthday, our nation takes time to stand back and contemplate the impact of Martin Luther King on the course of history. It may be tempting to treat this day like any other. But, many of us cannot forget; we grew up in a segregated society. Most of us remember attending – or for that matter teaching in – racial segregated school. We went to all-white schools. We can remember “whites only” water fountains, lunch counters and seats on the bus. The name of Martin Luther King, Jr. represents the blood, sweat and tears of many, many people. Praise God for people who live by the courage of their convictions.
Tuesday evening, in his farewell address, President Obama reminded our nation: “For white Americans, it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the ’60s; that when minority groups voice discontent, they’re not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness; when they wage peaceful protest, they’re not demanding special treatment, but the equal treatment that our founders promised.”
In 1956, Rev. King realized just how parched he was, how needy he was for a drink from God’s fountain of live-giving water. On January 27 of that year, he received a phone call: “Nigger, we are tired of you and your mess now, and if you are not out of Montgomery in three days, we’re going to blow your brains out and blow up your house.” Dr. King was so disturbed by this threat to his family and was especially concerned for his newborn daughter. He went to the kitchen seeking solace from a steaming cup of coffee. As he began to muse he was confronted with a vision in the kitchen.
In his words: Rationality left me…and I started thinking about many things. Something said to me, you can’t call on daddy now; he’s in Atlanta – You’ve got to call on that something, on that person that your daddy used to tell you about, that power that can make a way out of no way. And I discovered then that religion had to become real to me and I had to know God for myself. I bowed down over that cup of coffee, I never will forget it. I prayed out loud: Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right. I think the cause that we represent is right. But Lord, I must confess that I’m faltering. I’m losing courage.
Almost out of nowhere I heard a voice. “Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you, even until the end of the world.” Dr. King recounts that he was ready for anything after this. He experienced renewal from the fountain of life.
Tuesday is a national day of prayer for reconciliation and healing. Let us take this opportunity to renew our baptismal commitment. With all these celebrations (this week) we are impelled to revisit our own “vision in the kitchen” and like genuine messengers of God to respond with the sentiments of tomorrow’s responsorial psalm: “I will announce your justice in the vast assembly; I will not restrain my lips, as you, O Lord, know.” Further, with the words of the psalmist we pray: “I waited, waited for the Lord, and God stooped toward me and heard my cry. He put a new song into my mouth, a hymn to our God. “