Christmas has come and gone. The parties are over, the shopping is behind us, the decorations have been taken down, and all the cookies have been eaten…I’m living proof of that! And today we find ourselves at the beginning of what the Church calls “Ordinary Time”. Ordinary usually means mundane or commonplace. But if this is our expectation of Ordinary Time then we are in for a surprise. You see, there is nothing mundane or commonplace about Ordinary Time.
The word “Ordinary” comes from a Latin word that refers to an ordered series of numbers, for example, 1, 2, 3 and so forth. The weeks of Ordinary Time will take us through the life of Jesus apart from the Christmas and Easter seasons. As we celebrate the fullness of the mystery of Jesus’ life, the goal is to turn away from sin and back toward God. The readings in Ordinary Time begin with John the Baptist pointing to Jesus as the Lamb of God and end with the Solemnity of Christ the King. These events in Jesus’ life along with everything in between are hardly ordinary or mundane. As we begin Ordinary Time, today’s readings are , in fact, quite extraordinary!
Starting with the Gospel, Jesus is described as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” These words would have evoked powerful images in the minds of the first century Jews. For Example, Abraham’s sacrifice of a ram in the place of his son Isaac; the Passover lamb of Exodus whose blood saved the lives of the firstborn Jewish males; the Suffering Servant of Isaiah who was described as a lamb led to the slaughter; the lambs that were sacrificed every morning and evening in the Jerusalem temple. By His death on the cross Jesus, the Lamb of God accomplished something extraordinary that no other sacrifice could achieve…the forgiveness of sins.
Second, also from the Gospel, we witness the humility of John the Baptist. People flocked to hear John the Baptist preach and to be baptized by him in repentance for their sins. John reprimanded the religious leaders of the day and invoked fear into the political rulers who also worried about the crowds who followed him. Among those born of women, as Jesus himself said, no one was greater than John the Baptist. If he wanted, John could have “had it all” … power, prestige, pleasure and possessions. But John the Baptist knew who he was and what he had come for…to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah. The Messiah who existed before John and ranked ahead of him. The Messiah whose sandal straps John was not worth to loosen. The Messiah who must increase, while John himself must decrease. The Messiah to who John said, “I must be baptized by you.” Every action performed and every word preached by John the Baptist was done with recognition of who he was with respect to God…a display of extraordinary humility!
Third, in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah we hear the vocation of the Lord’s servant Israel. The mission of Israel was to bring back the exiles from Babylon and to restore the 12 tribes back to Yahweh, the one true God. But in what sounds as if the Lord changed His mind we heard…”I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” What God had in mind…universal salvation with Israel as the light to all the nations…was utterly extraordinary!
Finally, we have the introduction from Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians. The first time that Paul appeared in Sacred Scripture was under the name Saul when those who stoned Stephen laid their cloaks at his feet. The stoning of Stephen set Saul out on a mission to destroy the Church.. But Sauls’ encounter with the risen Lord in his journey to Damascus changed his life. In the Letter to the Corinthians we heard Paul, his name being changed from Saul, proclaim himself as an Apostle of Christ Jesus whom he had previously persecuted. Paul, along with the Corinthians, was called to be holy, to be set aside by God for God’s purposes. What an extraordinary conversion or turn of events in Paul’s life!
So what does all this mean for us? There is nothing mundane or commonplace about Ordinary Time…a time when we journey with Jesus through His life with the goal of turning away from sin and back toward God. As we set out on that journey, today’s readings provide some concrete ways that will lead us back home to God:
- Pursue holiness…Allow ourselves to be set aside by God for His purposes.
- Join in the New Evangelization….Become alight to others be recognizing the gifts that God has blessed us with and use those gifts to bring the Good News to others.
- Be humble…Recognize who we are in relation to God and His creation and live accordingly. Participate in the sacramental life of the Church…Frequent confession and Holy Communion.
In just a few moments the priest will raise up the Body of Christ and proclaim, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” How…Extraordinary!
Third, in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah we hear the vocation of the Lord’s servant Israel. The mission of Israel was to bring back the exiles from Babylon and to restore the 12 tribes back to Yahweh, the one true God. But in what sounds as if the Lord changed His mind we heard…”I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” What God had in mind…universal salvation with Israel as the light to all the nations…was utterly extraordinary.