Tag Archives: suffering servant

Homily: “On the Lamb of God”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Second Sunday after the Epiphany (the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time) 2017, Year A.

Whereas last Sunday we heard described the Baptism of Jesus in something of a first-person account, Jesus’s own experience of the moment, handed down to Saint Matthew, today the account is from the perspective of John the Baptist, which reached Saint John the Evangelist.

Now, despite that we are told by Saint John that this is the day after the Baptism in the River Jordan, if we consider this account from the Gospel of John while flipping back and forth from accounts of given to the Church by the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, we can suspect the plausible and even likely scenario that John the Baptist is here seeing Jesus coming toward him after Jesus had returned from the forty days in the wilderness and the temptations concerning the manner of His messiahship. A biblical “day” is often longer than a 24-hour period. In the wilderness, recall that Jesus rejected being the king of satanic magic, rejected being a king outside the natural order of creation, and he rejects being a king of earthly politics. Having battled the Devil in the wilderness—which is a biblical symbol involving contemplative, silent prayer—having battled the Devil in the wilderness, and forever vanquished the forces of evil, he returns to the community, and John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him.

What light must have shined from Him—the Light of all light! Jesus has taken hold of the life of perfect love. Jesus, always the divine Son, from His birth and maturing as a wee baby, then a toddler, then a big boy, then a teenager going through puberty, then young adult, and finally a fully mature man, increased in wisdom and increased in stature—Jesus through it all was the perfect pray-er. He always held His Father in perfect adoration. Jesus’ consciousness was always heightened and expanded, and because of that, His conscience always attuned to reality, and because of that, His compassion always sensitive to those around Him. He knew who He was—He is the Son of the Most High; He is to sit on the throne of David, He is to reign over the house of Jacob for ever, of His kingdom there will be no end—indeed, He is the Son of God.

And He knew that as the Son of God, He was to live His whole life for us, and for our salvation. And in living His whole life for us, He knew that He is to suffer. He was to suffer because He has taken on our sins, He shares our human nature, He would live and die as one of us. He lived His life on earth at all times bearing His cross, knowing somehow that it is His Father’s will that His Son be nailed to it.

John the Baptist, blessed by being born into a family of devout Jews and blessed still more by the presence of Jesus when both we still in the womb, not perfectly but intuitively understands who Jesus is, for John says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” We hear these words at the moment of eucharistic communion. Jesus, actually and really Him, offers Himself to us in love. The term “lamb” for the hearers of John the Baptist was rich in symbolic meaning. Preeminent among the meanings is that of sacrificial victim—the Passover lamb as well as the lamb of daily morning and evening sacrifice, and weekly Sabbath service. Lamb refers to oblation—an offering to God—for the atonement of sins; a lamb was presented to the Most High has a peace offering and a sin offering. A lamb is offered to make pure that which is impure. Furthermore, “lamb” means innocence, a lamb needs care and nurturing, a lamb is a sign of gentle and serene peace as well as prosperity.

This is why the Church appointed last Sunday the 42nd chapter of Isaiah, and today the 49th. These are two of the four “servant songs” that reflect the prophesy of the “suffering servant.” What it means for Jesus to be the Lamb is described by Isaiah: bringing justice to the nations, not a political but a spiritual king, the Light of light that opens the eyes of the blind and saves those in darkness, a salvation that reaches to the end of the earth. For He takes away the in of the world—He gives us a permanent way out of our self-centeredness, out of our tendency to put ourselves and even those we love before God, before our love for Him. When the resurrected Jesus walked with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, undoubtedly among the scripture he explained to them were the four suffering servant songs of Isaiah, and how these concerned and described Him.

Brother and sisters, God releases us from the bondage of our sin as we cooperate with His grace, the grace that always goes before us. Yet in the vast majority of cases, this is a slow and even laborious journey. Indeed the true nature of Jesus Christ is revealed little by little. But let us in our imperfect and incremental ways recognize indeed that the Lamb of God walks among us. We sang about the Lamb of God during the Gloria, asking him to have mercy on us and receive our prayer. We will sing again of the Lamb of God during the Communion Rite, asking again for Him to have mercy on us, and also asking Him to grant us peace, a peace which we recognize in those around us, a peace that shows us what forgiveness really means. And then Behold the Lamb of God immediately before Communion itself. We receive the sacrificial offering, and we continue to become that which we behold—that we too may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory. Amen.

Saint Mark, icon by the hand of Monica Thornton

Homily: Jesus Christ, suffering servant

Delivered at Saint Paul’s, Riverside on 5 July 2015.

“And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching” (Mk 6:6).

Brothers and sisters, spend time this week reflecting on this description of Jesus. This is St Mark describing Jesus doing ministry in his own country. Jesus—already being followed by great crowds, crowds that throng about him. Jesus—already performing great and mighty works— miracles of healing, of taming the waters, of exorcising demons, of raising a girl from the dead, such as we have been hearing. Jesus—with his elected twelve disciples, who have been hearing and reflecting upon these mysterious parables spoken by Jesus to larger crowds but explained by Jesus to them as means for more intimate spiritual direction.

Spend time this week reflecting that in his own community, surrounded by both disciples and relatives, who possess “first-century eyes,” as we have been discussing, Jesus could do no mighty work, save a few healings, with this particular group of people, for the most part.

Yet this is Jesus, the God-Man. Can we doubt that Jesus was as emboldened as Ezekiel the prophet—to “be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit upon scorpions”? Doubtless these prefigure Jesus’s passion, wearing a crown of thorns amid a rebellious, antagonistic crowd out for blood. And can we doubt that, like St Paul, Jesus lived with profound visions of the truth, even mystical visions of reality, of paradise, of heaven itself, yet was never “too elated” by them to be able to teach others?

For whatever visions Paul was given through a glass darkly, such were perfect visions in the senses and mind of Christ. Jesus, we must always remember, is the perfect pray-er. From his Nativity through his childhood and into his public ministry as an adult, through it all in every moment, the “whole life of Christ was one of unbroken adoration”—a “perpetual adoration.”[1] We forget this because of how constant his prayer was. Yet his unceasing prayer—his adoration of the Father—is as important to our salvation, and the redemption of the world, as his Passion, for the Passion is but another way we see the prayer of Jesus, his Incarnation made manifest.

Jesus is our high priest. Jesus is our Messiah of the Remnant Church. And here, St Mark’s emphasizes also that Jesus is the Suffering Servant. Scholars confirm that our Gospel passage is one of many moments in the Gospels that recapitulate the “suffering servant” motif found particularly in the Old Testament book of Isaiah. As one scholar writes: “The characteristics of God’s chosen servant are that he is quiet and restrained; no loud proclamations herald his activity,” that is, “no conquering hero of popular Judaism.”[2]

The suffering servant, in his humility, teaches us how to live. The suffering servant, in the pain received from our transgressions, bears our grief and sorrow, is bruised for our iniquities—and yet through all, his stripes, his wounds, heal us. The suffering servant, through the example of his own life, gives to our lives spiritual direction.

These are all qualities perfected in the life of Jesus Christ. They are evoked in our Gospel from St Mark. Jesus’s ministry is not remote and insular but with the people in the community. Jesus does not get into indiscriminate arguments on Facebook about the true God, but is largely restrained—he does not lash back at his community for the offense they take at his words, but with a wounded yet brave face “marvels because of their unbelief.” He is not callous or thick-headed to the reactions around him, but has the utmost sensitivity to them. How does he react? He reacts by accepting the truth of reality at that given moment—“a prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house,”—and by doing the quiet and restrained work that he can—laying his hands upon a few sick people and healing them. And then by going about his daily business, “among the villages teaching.”

This moment for Jesus, with this rebellious people whose hearts most assuredly were hardened, did not present a hill that Jesus chose to die upon. He picked his battles and this was not one of them. Not only politics, but in a notable sense ministry itself, is the art of the possible.

Yet it is an art of the possible that relies upon the hard rock of orthodoxy. Ministry is the art of the possible that knows that God is present—here and in all places. Ministry is the art of the possible that does not shy away from speaking the truth, yet is realistic about outcome. Because ministry tills the ground—and sometimes the ground is rocky, arid, and inhospitable! And, always, we are frail, imperfect, likely to sin. God knows this, God expects this, God forgives this. God loves us for our frailty. God loves us for our imperfections. God loves us despite our sin.

Let us, in our ministry rooted in our baptismal covenant and enacted in our prayer which is our lives, be bold, humble, and realistic. Let us be bold like Ezekiel—recognize the Holy Spirit lives in our bodies, and be not afraid of the words he guides us to speak. Let us be humble like Paul—we are given an abundance of revelations about the truth of ultimate reality, yet the world remains fallen, original sin remains real, and our bodies often sick, frail and tired. And let us be realistic like Jesus—those who do not have ears to hear, won’t. Yet, we must always believe, those who do have ears to hear, will.

It is the duty of the Church to perpetuate the Incarnation. May our lives be the bold, humble and realistic hands of Christ. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God described to us and to the whole Church, all might, majesty, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.

[1] Martin Thornton, The Heart of the Parish, chapter 6.
[2] Dr Guillaume, as quoted ibid.

Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton.