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2nd Sunday of Epiphany

13 January 2020

Isaiah 49.1-7; Psalm 40.1-12; 1 Corinthians 1.1-9; John 1.29-42

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“COME and see” is the invitation that Jesus issues to Peter and Andrew in this Sunday’s Gospel. A few verses later, just after our lection ends, Philip addresses the same words to Nathaniel (John 1.46).

To follow Jesus is not simply to accept a body of doctrine, but to share his life, and to allow that life to transform us. Pope Francis warns that “it is dangerous to dwell in the realm of words alone.” We must remember that, in the light of the incarnation of a divine Word that becomes flesh, and bids us to come and see, “realities are greater than ideas.” Ideas must be at the service of “communication, understanding, and praxis” if they are to avoid drifting into empty rhetoric. “What calls us to action are realities illuminated by reason.”

It is the reality of humility and sacrifice which we encounter in our incarnate Lord. St Augustine writes that it is by fulfilling the prophecies of Isaiah’s Servant Songs — as the one “deeply despised” and “abhorred by the nations” — that Jesus teaches us the way of humility. “Could any pride be cured, if the humility of God’s Son does not cure it?” Yet, as Augustine goes on to explain, once we have been freed from pride, we can recognise the true glory that we have in our crucified and risen Lord.

One of the reasons that humility is such a central Christian virtue is that it makes us receptive to God’s grace. Without humility, our hearts will be closed to all the gifts and virtues that he longs to pour on us. The Apostles have to learn it at their Master’s side. This is why Jesus’s invitation to his first followers is to “Come and see.”

Even at Jesus’s side, it will take the disciples a long time to learn that God’s glory is made perfect in humility and sacrifice — in what the world regards as weakness (cf. 1 Corinthians 1.20f). Indeed, on the eve of his Passion, they are still arguing about which of them is the greatest (Luke 22.24).

In contrast, the humility of John the Baptist enables him to discern the true glory of his Lord. “After me”, he tells his followers, “comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” As he watches Jesus walk by, on the day after he has baptised him, John declares, “Look, here is the Lamb of God.”

As Jean Vanier observes, the image of the lamb pervades the Hebrew Scriptures. Isaiah’s Servant Songs provide the backdrop against which we are to understand the Baptist’s words. Vanier writes: “In front of the power and armies of Caesar, in front of their weapons, stands a lamb, the lamb of God. . . The lamb will break down the walls of fear, of aggression, of violence, of sin, which imprison people in themselves and incite them to seek their own glory” (Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John).

Jesus and his disciples can say “Come and see” because his life embodies what he proclaims. We see the same integrity in our psalm, in which the writer’s praise of God is embodied in a life of prayerful obedience. (As the final verses of Psalm 40 indicate, it is a trust that is maintained in a time of desolation as well as in times of blessing.) Commenting on Psalm 40, St Augustine declares: “The lips must proclaim what is in the heart: this is an injunction against fear. But the heart must have in it what the lips say: this is an injunction against insincerity.”

Integrity and humility are also central themes of our epistle. As Maria Pascuzzi explains, Paul’s posture of thanksgiving to God offers a deliberate contrast to the boastful attitude that he will later correct in the Corinthians. His message is that salvation comes to them as gift, not achievement (New Collegeville Bible Commentary: 1 and 2 Corinthians).

In verse 8, Paul promises that God will “strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Pascuzzi observes that this is a challenge as well as a promise. In our own day — as in first-century Corinth — the Church must live out what it preaches, so that those who “come and see” may behold the Lamb of God alive in our midst.

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