January 13, 2023

Christ the Cornerstone

Live your life on the foundation of Christ’s love and mercy

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29).

After many weeks of special liturgical celebrations—from the First Sunday of Advent through the Christmas season, and culminating in last Sunday’s observance of the Epiphany of the Lord and this past Monday’s celebration of the Lord’s Baptism, this weekend we return to Ordinary Time. The readings for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time call our attention to the mission that Jesus received from his heavenly Father through the grace of the Holy Spirit: to redeem us from our sins.

The Gospel reading from St. John highlights the witness of St. John the Baptist who saw Jesus coming toward him and said:

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’ I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel. John testified further, saying, ‘I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, “On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ ” Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God (Jn 1:29-34).

Jesus is the Lamb of God. John is not. John is a prophetic witness sent by God to baptize with water in order to reveal someone greater than himself.

John admits that he didn’t know who would come after him, but he was told by God to look for the one who received the Holy Spirit “like a dove from heaven” (Jn 1:32). This is the miraculous sign that took place when Jesus was baptized by John.

As the Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft has observed, “When Jesus was baptized, the water did not do anything to him, but he did something to the water: he gave it the power to cleanse our sins when we are baptized. John could not do that.”

On this sacred occasion, at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, the Holy Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—are manifested as one God. Together they endorse the mission entrusted to the Son to give himself, unreservedly and sacrificially, as the Lamb of God who saves humanity, and all of creation, from the power of sin and death.

The first reading for this Sunday proclaims: “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the Earth” (Is 49:6).

Here the prophet Isaiah assigns to the entire people of Israel the mission that Jesus accepts from his Father: to proclaim the good news and to serve as a light of revelation to all nations. What the Jewish people could not accomplish by their own power, God makes possible by sending “the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit” (Jn 1:33), the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

As St. Paul tells the Christian community in Corinth, “We have all been sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy in his name” (1 Cor 1:2).

Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit. By God’s grace, the baptism that Christians receive has the power to set us free from the permanent, devastating consequences of sin and evil. And while the effects of sin remain all too visible in our world and in our daily lives, the Spirit of God cleanses us with water and with fire—transferring the sins of the world, and our sins, to the Lamb of God who bears all our burdens and atones for all our transgressions.

We begin this observance of Ordinary Time by recalling one of the most important teachings of our Christian faith. Namely, that we are sinners who have been redeemed by the love and mercy of our triune God. We should thank St. John the Baptist, the last and greatest of all the prophets, for this vivid reminder that we cannot save ourselves. We must surrender our will and our lives to one who is greater by far than we can ever hope to be.

St. John the Baptist tells us that he has “seen and testified” (Jn 1:34) that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the world’s sin. We are invited this Sunday, and throughout the new year, to “behold the Lamb of God” and to give ourselves unreservedly to the liberating power of his divine love. †

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