click here for teachings on the daily Gospel readings   

Other Sunday and Holy Day Readings

2nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle A)

Readings:
Isaiah 49:3, 5-6
Psalm 40:1, 4, 7-10
1Corinthians 1:1-3
John 1:29-34

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

The two Testaments reveal God's divine plan for humanity, and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095). 

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: The True Identity of Jesus of Nazareth
Today's Liturgy of the Word reveals Jesus Christ to us in three ways: He is the "Servant" of God promised by the Prophet Isaiah (Is 49:5-6); He is the "Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world" (Jn 1:29); and He is the "Son of God" (Jn 1:34). 

Our First Reading is from the second of Isaiah's four "Servant Songs."  God's Servant is the divinely sent representative of the people of Israel.  God gives His servant the mission to redeem Israel.  However, his mission will not only be the restoration of the covenant people who have been exiled by their enemies and scattered among the Gentile nations.  His mission is also the conversion of the Gentiles to whom he will be a "light to the nations" to carry God's message of universal salvation to "the ends of the earth."

In the Responsorial Psalm Reading, attributed to Jesus' ancestor, King David, the psalmist shows that he has a unique understanding of his relationship with God.  He understands that the rituals of animal sacrifice are only a symbol.  The offering of the life of the animal demonstrates the humility and self-sacrifice of the individual in obedience to the will of God that is the only kind of sacrifice that is pleasing to God.  He responds to God's grace by offering himself to God as an oblation, yielding his life to do the will of God and to gratefully following His law written in the sacred texts.  He vows to do this not only by words but by an internal commitment that is demonstrated in the actions of an undivided heart.

Our Second Reading is from the introduction of St. Paul's first letter to the Christians of Corinth, Greece.  Paul identifies Jesus as the One who called St. Paul and the other Apostles and disciples to serve Him and proclaim Him as Lord to the Corinthians.

In our Gospel Reading, Jesus begins His public ministry soon after His baptism by St. John the Baptist in the Jordan River.  It is St. John who first reveals Jesus' true identity as the promised Davidic "Son of God" to the covenant people.  John leaves no doubt that Jesus is the promised Davidic Messiah and "Servant" of the Lord foretold by the prophet Isaiah in his Fourth Servant's Song (Is 53:10-12).  Jesus is as the One sent by God as a sin offering to redeem and sanctify God's covenant people.  St. John declared to the people of his generation and to us in today's Gospel Reading: "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." 

The First Reading Isaiah 49:3, 5-6 ~ The Servant of the Lord
3 The LORD said to me: You are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory.  5 Now the LORD has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb that Jacob may be brought back to him and Israel gathered to him; and I am made glorious in the sight of the LORD, and my God is now my strength!  6 It is too little, the LORD says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. 

Our First Reading is from the second of the four "Servant Songs" found in the book of the 8th century BC prophet Isaiah (Is 42:1-7; 49:1-7; 50:4-11 and 52:13-53:12).  In verse 3, God's identifies His Servant as the people's divinely sent representative.  God gives His Servant the mission to redeem Israel; it is a divine mission that the Servant received before he was born (verse 5).  However, his mission is not only the restoration of the covenant people who live in exile, scattered by their enemies among the Gentile nations.  His mission is also the conversion of the Gentiles for whom he will be a "light to the nations" to carry God's message of universal salvation to "the ends of the earth" (verse 6).

The messianic interpretation of this passage in the figure of the "Servant of the Lord" was widespread among the Jews in the first century AD, including the members of the community at Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.  From the earliest years of the New Covenant Church, Christians applied all four of the "Servant Songs" to Jesus and saw these prophecies as fulfilled in His life and mission.  For example in our current passage:

The Church's mission is to continue Jesus' work and to share with the world the truth about God's Servant, Jesus Christ.  Sts. Paul and Barnabas, speaking in the synagogue of Antioch Pisidia, testified to the Jews concerning Jesus' universal call to salvation: For so the Lord has commanded us, "I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth" (Acts 13:47).   And Pope John Paul II wrote: "Jesus Christ, the light of the nations, shines upon the face of his Church which he sends forth to the whole world to proclaim the Gospel to every creature (Mk 16:15).  Hence, the Church, as the people of God among the nations, while attentive to the new challenges of history and to mankind's efforts to discover the meaning of life, offers to everyone the answer which comes from the truth about Jesus Christ and his Gospel" (John Paul II, Veritatis splendor, 2).

Responsorial Psalm 40:1, 4, 7-10 ~ Being Obedient to the Will of God
The response is: "Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will."

1 I have waited, waited for the LORD, and he stooped toward me and heard my cry.  4 And he put a new song into my mouth, a hymn to our God.
Response:
7 Sacrifice or offering you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me.  Holocausts or sin-offerings you sought not; 8 then said I, "Behold I come."
Response:
"In the written scroll it is prescribed for me, 9 to do your will, O my God, is my delight, and your law is within my heart!"
Response:
10 I announced your justice in the vast assembly; I did not restrain my lips, as you, O LORD, know.
Response:

In this psalm, which is attributed to King David, the psalmist is grateful to God for delivering him from a trial that brought him intense suffering.  In giving thanks for his salvation, he acknowledges that God transformed his life, and as a result, in gratitude he sings a "new song" that is a hymn of praise (verses 1 and 4).  The psalmist shows that he has a unique understanding of his relationship with God.  He knows that animal sacrifice is only a symbol of the humility and self-sacrifice of the individual in obedience to the will of God, and it is the only kind of sacrifice that is pleasing to God (verse 7).  He responds to God's grace by offering himself to God as an oblation, yielding his life to do the will of God and to gratefully following His law written in the sacred texts.  He does this only by words but by an internal commitment that is demonstrated in the actions of an undivided heart (verses 8-9).  In verse 10, the psalmist vows to proclaim, in the worship assembly of Israel, the works of God in his life.

The New Testament Letter to the Hebrews quotes verses 7-9 from the Greek Septuagint translation of this passage in Hebrews 10:5-9, and interprets it as Christ's self-oblation, placing the words in the mouth of God the Son at His Incarnation: For this reason, when he came into the world, he said: "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight in.  Then I said, 'As is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God.'"

The Second Reading 1 Corinthians 1:1-3 ~ Christ's Faithful Emissaries to the Church Universal
1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, 2 to the church of God that is in Corinth, to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.  3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The introduction to Paul's letter to the church at Corinth, Greece is the conventional form for the initial greeting in a first century Hellenistic letter.  St. Paul begins his letter by presenting his credentials.  He writes that he has the authority to teach the church at Corinth because Jesus Christ called him to be His apostle in his Damascus Road conversion experience (Acts 9:1-19) and appointed him to be a missionary to the Gentiles.  It was a mission approved by St. Peter and the Church (Rom 11:13; Acts 9:15; 26:27; 1 Cor 9:2; Gal 1:16; 2:8; 1 Tim 2:7).  This divine appointment, Paul believed, elevated him as a true apostle of Christ and made him equal to the other Apostles who had also seen and talked with Jesus after His Resurrection (Acts 10:41).  He vigorously defends his title of apostle in all his letters.  In addition, Paul also founded this faith community on his second missionary journey in 50-/52 AD.

Next he mentions Sosthenes, a co-author of the letter and a brother in Christ who was at one time the president of the Jewish synagogue at Corinth (Acts 18:12-17) but is now a Christian convert and a member of Paul's missionary team (verse 1).  Next, Paul reminds the faith community of three ways in which the existence of Christian community at Corinth is grounded in God's initiative:

  1. They have been sanctified in Christ Jesus.
  2. They have been called to a holy life in Christ through Christian baptism.
  3. They are members of the universal Body of Christ along with all those who call upon the name of Jesus.

St. Paul often refers to Christians in his letters as those who are sanctified = "the holy ones' or "the saints" (verse 2).  The people of Old Covenant Israel were called a "holy assembly" because they were separated from the Gentile nations for worship and service of Yahweh (see Lev 11:44; 23:1-44).  In the same way, the Christian community was also regarded as sanctified and set apart from the world by Christ in Christian baptism (Rom 6:22; 15:16; 1 Cor 6:11; Eph 5:26-27).  Christians are called to holiness (1 Cor 1:2; 1 Thes 4:7) in that they are called to make their lives conform to the gift of grace they have received through Christ Jesus.

Finally, Paul gives the community a blessing at the end of his greeting: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is Paul's typical blessing found in all of his letters with the exception of the Letter to the Hebrews, which the Church Fathers attributed to St. Paul, but is not the typical Greek greeting.  The typical Greek greeting was chairein [khah-ee-ren], meaning simply "greetings."  Scholars have suggested that Paul substituted chairein "greetings" with charis [khar'-ece], meaning "favor" in the Greek but with the distinctive meaning and understanding of the Hebrew word hen, meaning "grace," which is a gift of God.  And then to this greeting Paul added the Greek word for "peace", eirene [i-ray'-nay], which reflects the typical Semitic greeting, shalom, "peace" (see 2 Mac 1:1), yielding a combined Gentile and Jewish greeting.  Jewish-Christians may have recognized in his greeting an echo the ancient priestly blessing for God's holy people Israel found in Numbers 6:24-26, May Yahweh bless you and keep you.  May Yahweh let his face shine on you and be gracious to you [give you grace].  May Yahweh show you his face and bring you peace.  If Paul does intend to echo the priestly blessing, then this is an ecclesial blessing.  In that case, "grace" represents God's covenantal grace revealed in Jesus Christ and "peace" is the deep and abiding peace that comes from the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit.  It is a blessing that would have appealed to a mixed congregation of Christian Jews and Gentiles who are one Body in Christ.

The Gospel of John 1:29-34 ~ St. John the Baptist testifies to Jesus' True Identity
29 [The next day, he] John the Baptist saw Jesus coming towards him and said, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  30 He is the one of whom I said 'A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.'  31 I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel." 32 John testified further, saying, "I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him.  33 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.'  34 Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God."

Do not think of this event and St. John's statement in terms of your familiarity with the concept of Jesus as a sacrifice for mankind or in terms of your understanding of the Last Supper.  Think of how startling this statement was for these people in the 1st century AD, identifying a man as a human sacrifice. There were five kinds of animals used for ritual sacrifice in the Temple of God in Jerusalem: cattle, goats, sheep, turtle-doves, and pigeons.  A "lamb who removes sin" would indicate a lamb of sacrifice, but which kind of lamb of sacrifice?   Most Biblical scholars and commentators identify this symbol of sacrifice with the Passover lamb; however, the Passover lamb was not a single lamb but thousands of lambs or goat-kids sacrificed on one day and only once a year (Ex 12:5-6; Lev 23:5; Num 28:16).  St. Paul does identify Jesus as the "Passover" in 1 Corinthians 5:7 (not the "Passover lamb" since the word lamb is not in the Greek text).  And Jesus was the perfect Lamb of sacrifice that every lamb in the Old Covenant sacrificial system prefigured.  But the Passover sacrifice of thousands of goat-kids and lambs occurred only once a year was not the most important feast day of the Seven Sacred Feasts.  Passover was the first feast of the liturgical year; however, it was not designated a "Pilgrim feast" that every man of the covenant must attend (see Dt 16:16 and 1 Chr 8:13).  A slave or a family member could take the Passover victim to the sacrificial ritual at the Temple.

An adult ram was sacrificed on Yom Kipper as a whole burnt offering as a gift to Yahweh from His people and multiple lambs were sacrificed on other feast days.  For example, in addition to other sacrifices, seven unblemished yearling lambs were offered as holocausts (whole burnt offerings) on the pilgrim feasts of Unleavened Bread (seven lambs on each of seven days) and Weeks (Pentecost), while on the Feast of Shelters (Tabernacles), fourteen lambs were offered as a holocaust (whole burnt offering) with other sacrifices for a period of seven days and an additional seven lambs on the eighth day.  But none of these lambs were classified as sin offerings and they were offered only once a year.

It is unlikely that any of these classes of sacrificial lambs would have come immediately to the thoughts of the crowd listening to John's shocking statement.  The only single lamb offered as a holocaust for the sins and sanctification of the covenant people was in the daily liturgy at the Temple.  There was an unblemished male lamb offered in a communal sacrifice in the morning liturgical worship service and an unblemished male lamb offered in the afternoon liturgical worship service at the Jerusalem Temple; both lambs were considered a single sacrifice.  These were the Tamid lambs, and their sacrifice in a twice daily liturgical worship service was to be perpetual (the meaning of the word "tamid") for as long as the Sinai Covenant endured (Ex 29:38-42; Num 28:3-8).  The entire day for the covenant people revolved around the twice daily Tamid sacrifice and the hours of prayer associated with the Tamid liturgy.  Of all the sacrifices, the Tamid (usually translated as "the daily sacrifice") was the most important, taking precedence over all other feast day and individual sacrifices.  All other sacrifices, even on the Sabbath, could be offered only "in addition" to the Tamid (repeated 15 times in Num 28:10-29:38).

The Hebrew word tamid means "standing" as in perpetual. When John identified Jesus as a Lamb of God offered for the sins of the people, it had to be the Tamid sacrifice, offered twice daily for the sins and sanctification of the entire people, that came to mind for the crowd.  Since the liturgy of the Tamid took place from dawn to dust, and since the Jewish hours of private prayer were within the offering of the Tamid liturgy (9 AM to noon and noon to 3 PM), the two times on two different days when John identified Jesus as the Lamb of sacrifice (Jn 1:29 and 36) probably happened during the "hours of prayer" associated with the sacrifice of one of the individual Tamid lambs in the Temple in Jerusalem.  This connection to the Tamid is also how St. John the Apostle identifies Jesus in the book of Revelation 5:5 when he sees Christ for the first time: "Then I saw .....a Lamb standing that seemed to have been sacrificed.."  Dead lambs don't stand up but "standing" has a double meaning.  It also means "perpetual," as in the Hebrew word "Tamid" (for more information on this passage see the study of the Book of Revelation chapter 5. Also see the e-book, "Jesus and the Mystery of the Tamid Sacrifice".

It is the moment of climax when John identifies Jesus as a "sacrifice."  The Children of Israel abhorred human sacrifice.  Yahweh had forbidden the practice and now their holy young priest/prophet has identified this man as a sacrifice for the sins of the people who is also, according to John, the Messiah, the "Son of God" (or will in verse 34).  This was not their idea of a "Chosen One."  Their concept of Messiah was another David or Moses.  St. John was telling the crowd of Jews how Jesus will bring salvation and redemption to mankind, not as a warrior like David but as "The Lamb" of sacrifice for the people.  Not to cover their sin as the blood of the Tamid lambs did but to remove their sin forever. It is important to note that the original text reads sin in the singular to make it clear that all sin of every kind is removed!  He is giving them the prophet Jeremiah's promise from God in Jeremiah 31:33 ...they will all know me, from the least to the greatest, Yahweh declares, since I shall forgive their guilt and never more call their sin to mind.

In his Gospel, St. John is also making a connection between this revelation of the Baptist and the "Songs of the Servant" passages in the book of Isaiah.  A passage from the fourth Servant Song reads: Ill treated and afflicted, he never opened his mouth, like a lamb led to the slaughter-house, like a sheep dumb before its shearers he never opened his mouth" (Is 53:7, underlining added) and  It was Yahweh's good pleasure to crush him with pain; if he gives his life as a sin offering,..." ( Is 53:10a NJB, underlining added; also see  CCC#536, 608).  The prophecy of these passages was fulfilled in Christ's suffering and death on the cross. 

St. John testifies: "He existed before me..." in verse 30.  John declares Jesus' pre-incarnation.  Physically Jesus was born six months after John (as the ancients counted), but the Holy Spirit gave the Baptist the knowledge of Jesus' eternal existence (Lk 1:36-37).

31 I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.
The Old Testament prophets foretold God's promise to send a Messiah to redeem the covenant people.  St. John was the last of the old covenant prophets.  St. John's mission is to make the Messiah know to Israel because the gift of redemption must first be offered to Israel before it is offered to the Gentile nations.  Jesus will tell his disciples in their first missionary efforts: Do not make your way to Gentile territory, and do not enter any Samaritan town; go instead to the lost sheep of the House of Israel (Mt 10:5-6).  Israel as Yahweh's "Bride" of the Old Covenant had the spiritual privilege of race.  But the Suffering Servant passages of Isaiah also speak of the "redemption of the nations."  Israelites (living in the Galilee) and Jews (living in Judea), however, only thought in terms of personal and national redemption even though they were called by God to reveal Him as the One true God to the other nations of the earth.  The celebration of the pilgrim feast of Shelters/Tabernacles looked forward to a "redemption of the nations" led by Israel.  The revelation of a universal redemption is what prevented may Jews from coming to Christ (see Eph 2:11-3:13 for St. Paul's explanation of this mystery).

32 John testified further, saying, "I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him.  33 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.'  34 Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God."

Each of the Gospel accounts includes the description of God's Spirit descending like a dove.  John differs with the other Gospels only in that he does not describe the baptism itself, and in describing the descent of the Spirit John has the phrase "from the heaven."  CCC#438

Matthew 3:16, God's Spirit  descending like a dove coming on him
Mark 1:10, The Spirit like a dove descending on him
Luke 3:22, The Holy Spirit descends in bodily form like a dove on him
John 1:32, The Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and remain on him

It is from this time forward that God the Holy Spirit is associated in Christian iconography with the symbol of the dove.

I did not know him... This seems a curious statement because we know from Luke's Gospel that they are kinsmen.  John's ignorance of this relationship may be necessary to show that there was no collusion between Jesus and John, and that John's declaration that Jesus is the Messiah is a revelation from God.  Jesus was raised in the Galilee in the North and John was born in Ein Karin, which is just outside of Jerusalem.  If his elderly parents died when he was quite young and other relatives raised him, or if he was raised at Qumran in a community of priests who called themselves "sons of Zadok" and who had separated themselves from the established priesthood in Jerusalem, it is likely that he would lose contact with Mary and her family.   The sectarian documents at Qumran indicate that the community adopted orphaned children of priests.

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.'
In this statement, John makes a distinction between his form of ritual purification in water immersion and the baptism that Jesus will bring.  Jesus will bring a baptism of God the Holy Spirit that will result not in just a purified life made ready for the coming of the Messiah like St. John's baptism but a baptism that imparts a transformed life in which the Christian, through the power of God the Holy Spirit, becomes a new creature in Christ.

34 Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God."
In this statement, John reveals Jesus' true identity.  He is not only a son of God in the collective sense of Israelites who are sons of God in the Sinai Covenant.  Jesus is the Son of God!  Most ancient texts read "Son of God" as in our passage from the New American Bible translation, but other ancient texts read instead "Chosen One," reflecting the title of God's "Servant" in the first "Song of the Servant" in Isaiah 42:1.  Nevertheless, John's audience would probably have made the connection with what John says in verse 33 to Isaiah's Servant of Yahweh in 42:1: Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom my soul delights.  I have sent my spirit upon him... There would have been no doubt for the crowd that St. John was identifying Jesus as the promised Messiah.

Catechism References:
Isaiah 49:3, 5-6 (CCC 64)
Psalm 40:7-10 LXX (CCC 462); 40:7 (CCC 2824)
1 Corinthians 1:1-3
John 1:29 (CCC 408, 523, 536, 608, 1137, 1505); 1:31-34 (CCC 486); 1:31 (CCC 438); 1:32-34 (CCC 713); 1:32-33 (CCC 536); 1:33-34 (CCC 719, 1286)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013; revised 2017