Who is Jesus Christ? A Meditation on the Gospel of the Second Sunday of the Year

As Ordinary time (tempus per anum) opens up, the lectionary continues to “introduce” Christ to us. Last week he was baptized obtained many gifts for us as he was manifested by the Father.

 This week is a continuation of sorts as John the Baptist elaborates on Who Jesus is. John’s words are brief but they are packed with Christological teaching. In this Gospel we learn at least five things about Jesus. He learn that he is prefigured,  pre-existent, pre-eminent, powerful and the presence of God. Let’s look at each one.

1. Prefigured – The text says, John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Now, unless you know the history of this moment, it seems a little odd. A full grown man approaches John the Baptist and he says, Look! There is the Lamb of God.

But for those who know the scriptures John is really answering a question that was asked by Isaac some 1800 years prior to this event. Abraham has received from God a strange and terrible command that he take his son to Mt. Moriah (present day Jerusalem) and there offer him in sacrifice. As they arrive at the foot of Moriah, here is where we join the Genesis text:

And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. (Gen 22:6ff).

Do you get it? A promised son has wood laid upon his shoulder and is made to carry it up a hillside, the same hillside where “Golgotha” will one day be found. There, on the top of that hill he is to be laid on the wood and killed. Sound familiar? Of course, it is a prefigurement of Christ, or a “type” of Christ.  Things are starting to look grim for Isaac who gets nervous and says, “Daddy – where is the Lamb?” You know the rest of the story. It is true that there was a ram caught in the thicket which God provided that day, but that ram pointed to Christ.

And so the question, “Where is the Lamb?”  wafted up on the breeze  and got repeated down through the generations. Some five hundred years later at the end of the Egyptian slavery the blood of the lamb also protected Isaac’s descendants from death. And every Passover the question was still asked, where is the Lamb, referring to the Passover lamb. Here too, the Passover lamb was but a symbol, a prefigurement of Christ.

Now, standing on the banks of the Jordan John the Baptist answers Isaac’s questions repeated down through the centuries: “Where is the Lamb?” “Look! There is the Lamb of God!” So the first thing we learn of Christ is that he was prefigured, here and in many other places in the Old Testament.

2. Pre-existent – The text says, He is the one of whom I said,  ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’  Now this too is a strange thing for a man to say about his younger cousin. Jesus was born six months after John the Baptist, yet John says, he existed before me.  But John is clearly teaching us here of Christ’s pre-existence. Before his assuming a human nature, Jesus existed eternally with the Father. There never was a time when Jesus the Son was not. He is eternally begotten by the Father, he existed before all ages.  Scripture says of him:  for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities ‑‑ all things were created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Col 1:16) Likewise,  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God;  all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. (John 1:1). And yet again, Jesus himself said, Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad.”  The Jews then said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”  Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”  (John 8:56)

3.  Pre-eminent  – The text says I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water  was that he might be made known to Israel.” In effect John is saying,  I exist for him. My purpose is to reveal him. He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30)  Jesus is greater than John or any prophet or any world leader. Jesus is the Groom, John is but the best man.

4. Powerful – The text says, 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.’  The baptism of John could only announce repentance and call for it. But it could not truly wash away sins. The Baptism of Jesus can. Even more, it does not only take away sins but Jesus’ Baptism also confers the Holy Spirit. We are thus given a whole new life. Sin is taken away and in its place grace upon grace is given. Grace to restore us, renew us and refashion us. Grace that equips, empowers and enables us. Grace that sanctifies, gives sonship and seals us with the Holy Spirit. All this is in fulfillment of Ezekiel  36:25ff which says  I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Scripture also says, But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become the children of God; (Jn 1:12)

5. Presence of God – the text says, Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.” Jesus would say elsewhere, To see me is to have seen the Father, the Father and I are one (John 14:9) As the Son of God, he manifests the Father, he is the presence of God in this world. He shares fully in the one divine essence and as Son shows us the Father. He is the presence of God among us.

So here in a brief passage are five important teachings about Jesus Christ. He has existed forever, was prefigured in the Old Testament, has priority above and beyond anyone we know or think important, he has the power not only to save us from sin but to give us the very life of God, and as Son of God, He is God, and thus is God’s very presence among us. He is not just the man from Galilee, he is very God from Heaven.

16 Replies to “Who is Jesus Christ? A Meditation on the Gospel of the Second Sunday of the Year”

  1. John the Baptist is wonderful because in very few words he summarizes the promises of the Old Testament. Lamb of God is the Paschal Lamb and the Thanksgiving Offering, so basically John was saying, “Behold He Who shall bring you redemption and everlasting life!” It’s extraordinary how God accomplished everything in a single person, the Divine Person of the Son.

    Also, most Christians are unaware of the fact that every single detail in Jesus’ life was propheised: His name, place of birth, names of his parents, his geneology, his twelve witnesses, the cities he would visit, miracles he would work, teachings he would teach, how long he would live, when and where he would die (right down to the day and hour), etc. Even the most mundane details, such as Jesus having long hair, was prophesied.

    Most people think it’s coincidence but it’s God’s way of trumping the pagan prophecies and showing He alone is God. No other prophecies in history were so complicated and exactly fulfilled as the Messiah’s.

  2. Thank you, Msgr. But isn’t it true that from the moment of Jesus’ birth to the hour of his burial, his whole life is one big epiphany?

    1. Rather than “Ordinary Time” Lutherans (perhaps other non-Catholic denominations as well – can’t speak for them) refer to the period until Ash Wednesday as the Season of Epiphany.

      I wonder why the difference?

      1. Through the liturgical reforms of 1970 (and still for those who follow the 1962 calendar and celebrate/participate in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass), the Catholic Church (Latin rites) also used the Sundays “after Epiphany” and “after Pentecost” to denote what’s now known as Ordinary Time. If I remember correctly (Monsignor and others, please point me in the right direction if I err), the actual Latin name for Ordinary Time is “Tempus de Annum,” or “time of the year.”

        The Ordinary Time designation simply allows the Church to flow scriptural readings, themes, etc. seamlessly between the time after Epiphany and the time after Pentecost. For example, the ninth week of Ordinary time this year falls before Lent. In other years, it can occur after Pentecost. But the propers (prayers, antiphons, etc.) for that week are the same whether it falls in the period after Epiphany or after Pentecost. Readings vary, depending on the year, but the readings for the ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time in the year 2011 would be the same whether that Sunday fell on March 6 or June 5.

        In the 1962 (and earlier) rubrics:
        a) There were a designated number of Sundays after Epiphany (before Septuagesima, or the pre-Lenten season) and Sundays after Pentecost.
        b) Any Sunday readings after Epiphany that were omitted because of an early Lent/Easter were read at the end of the period after Pentecost; that could lead to (e.g.) talking about Jesus calling his first apostles the week before the last Sunday after Pentecost, which always had readings about the last judgment (Christ the King was celebrated on the last Sunday of October before 1970).
        c) Many of the saints’ days that are optional today were observed then under the equivalent of what we now call a “memorial,” while some saints that were celebrated then are no longer celebrated universally. Those days all had their own readings (or relied on readings from the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Apostles, Pastors, Doctors of the Church, Holy Men and Women, etc.).
        d) A weekday following a Sunday “of the year” that had no saints observed on that day (known as a ferial day) was not assigned any specific readings, but rather the readings from Sunday were repeated.

        In the 1970 reforms:
        a) All Ordinary Time weekdays received their own readings. In fact, the readings of Ordinary Time are more varied than for any other season – on weekdays, the first reading and responsorial psalm alternate between odd and even years, and Sunday readings rotate on a three-year basis. During Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter, the weekday readings are usually the same year after year (there are some slight varieties, usually to avoid repeating a Sunday reading), and some Sunday/holy day readings are always the same (e.g. Matthew 2, 1-12 is read each year on Epiphany, and John 20, 19-31 is read each year on the Second Sunday of Easter).
        b) Sundays or weekdays superseded for any reason are skipped. Sometimes, this even means skipping a whole week. So you flow from Jesus’ initial apperances and miracles, to calling his first disciples, to preaching and dealing with resistance, to preparing his followers for his passion and death by speaking them of the last judgment, all in chronological order. On weekdays, you go through this cycle three times each year (Ordinary Time weekdays feature nine weeks of Mark’s gospel, twelve weeks of Matthew, and thirteen weeks of Luke).

        Almost all “high-church” Protestants (Anglican/Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, etc.) have adopted the new lectionary cycles/rules (with a few deviations), but have kept the former names. Perhaps that’s more to more clearly delineate that the first part “of the year” deals more with the Epiphany or revelation of Jesus, while the second part “of the year” deals more with growing as Christians, thanks to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

        Long-winded explanation, but hope this helps.

  3. In my reflection of this Sunday’s Gospel, the words of St. John the Baptist, “…the Lamb of God…” made me pause to ask myself, “Who is this Lamb of God to me?” I am aware of the Passover story about the sacrificing of an unblemished lamb and sprinkling the blood over the doorpost so the angel of death would pass over that house and spare the life of the first born son. It is also striking to me that they were not only asked to slaughter the lamb as an offering, but they were also made to eat it. Then I remembered that someone had written before stating that the reason why people do not know Jesus is because they do not believe they are sinners. It follows that only those who are aware that they are sinners know Jesus because they are the ones who are in need of redemption. To me, therefore, the Lamb of God is my Redeemer. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is the answer to God in Psalm 40:6-8:

    Sacrifice and offering offering you do not desire;
    but you have given me an open ear.
    Burnt offering and sin offering
    you have not required.
    Then I said, “Behold, I come;
    in the roll of the book it is written of me;
    I delight to do your will, O my God;
    your law is within my heart.”

    I thank Jesus for having taken on my humanity and shed his blood on the Wooden Cross. I am grateful that in the Eucharist, he continues to feed me. I cannot imagine what life would be if he did not die for me. Or, what would life be like if God remained silent?

  4. Another great lesson, Msgr. Thank you. I have always wondered about Mt. Moriah and Calvary being one and the same hill. It seems fitting but the temple mount would be just as fitting. At any rate, I can’t fix them in the Scripture. Is it a teaching of the Church or just pious speculation?

  5. And John was clothed with a camel skin.

    I was thinking about that at a bible study class and I offered a theory that it was actually symbolic. When in the desert, the only “lifeboat” that would keep you from perishing in a long journey was the camel. Just as people clung to the camel for safe passage, he was showing himself to be that “lifeboat” in the desert. Cling to his teachings of repentance and he will lead you out of the desert and to Jesus Christ.

  6. Question; I don’t know if this is the right place to ask this queston, but here goes it. Why don’t we have an octave of Easter of an octave of pentecost. I don’t knoww why I’m thinking about this in this way. Help.

    1. We have an octave of Easter. Sadly the Octave of Pentecost and the octave of Epiphany were set aside in recent decades. As Cynthia BC points out the old calendar reckoned the whole time of Epiphany up to septuagesima Sunday (70 Days before Easter) as “Time after Epiphany” or Epiphnaytide. Now that the old calendar is an option insofar as the Latin Mass goes, these units of time are partially restored ot the Roman Rite, though not universally observed. Christmastide in the new calendar is especially truncated. In a way it is isilly to prepare for 4 weeks for a Christmas celebration that lasts barely a week, in most dioceses of America. In the Old Calendar, Christmastide went all the way to Feb 2, the feast of the presentation and many still piously keep a lot of Christmas decorations up in their homes until then.

      1. The day before Epiphany I ran into a lady from my Lutheran church wearing a Christmas sweater. When I admired the garment she said, “I wear my special sweaters until Epiphany because it is STILL CHRISTMAS.”

        My family always waits until the weekend after Epiphany to take down our decorations. Thanks to my fellow parishioner, I am inspired to keep wearing my Christmas sweaters until then, too.

  7. Thank you Monseignor for this beautiful homily on Who do you say Jesus is?? Sadly, I have many friends
    who have left the Church over the past few years…because they did not know the correct answer to that
    question! Some of my friends will recite to me ( much like the thinking of the Muslim faith ) their belief
    that he was a great man…and a powerful prophet…and that’s it!! These same friends also do not believe
    that the Bible is the Word of God so it is a difficult dilemma to approach them with quotations from the Scriptures. Nonetheless I will save this to my desktop…and attempt to share the Truth with them….as St Jerome is credited with saying “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Jesus Christ!” Again, thank you for
    this inspired homily !

  8. Dear Father,
    Can you tell me where you got the image of the Lion of Judah and the lamb? My wife and I recently named our child Judah for the Lion of Judah. I think the poster would be great for his room.

    Yours in Christ,

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