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The Lord said to me: You are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory. 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! 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.(P) The word of the Lord.
I have waited, waited for the Lord, and He stooped toward me and heard my cry. And He put a new song into my mouth, a hymn to our God. (R)
Sacrifice or offering you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me. Holocausts or sin-offerings you sought not; then said I, "Behold I come". (R)
"In the written scroll it is prescribed for me: to do your will, O my God, is my delight, and your law is within my heart!" (R)
I announced your justice in the vast assembly; I did not restrain my lips, as you, O Lord, know. (R)
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, 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. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.(P) The word of the Lord.
John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one of whom I said, "A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me. I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel."" 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", Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God".(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
Today I would like to begin by reflecting on the Catholic Liturgical Year. A typical year from January 1 to December 31 is based on the Gregorian calendar, also called the Western or Christian secular calendar. It was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 and is the most internationally accepted version today. The year has four seasons, twelve months, fifty-two weeks, three hundred and sixty-five days that include holidays, weekends, festive days, and days that are just "ordinary days". Many religions and cultures have calendars of their own, which have quite different start and end dates. We, Christians, also have a separate year different to the secular one and is called the "liturgical year", duly based on the central events of the salvation history.
Just like the typical year, the liturgical year is marked by seasons such as Advent, Christmas, Lent, The Sacred Paschal Triduum or Three Sacred Days, Easter and Ordinary Time. And the year begins on the First Sunday of Advent, which is usually the last Sunday in November or the first Sunday in December, and runs through to the Feast of Christ the King. The Ordinary Time makes up most of the liturgical year, and it encompasses two periods: from the Monday following the Sunday after the Feast of Epiphany or following the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord to Ash Wednesday; and thereafter, from the Monday after the Feast of Pentecost to the Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent.
After the commemoration of the Baptism of the Lord last Sunday, we have already therefore entered into the season of Ordinary Time which is represented by the liturgical colour green. At the heart of Ordinary Time is the weekly celebration of Sunday, "the Lord's Day", when as a whole community, we solemnly assemble for three purposes:
Let us now turn to the First Reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. To fully understand the text, a bit of background may be helpful. From the Old Testament of the Bible, we learn that, first, three generations of the patriarchs - Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - governed the ancient people of Israel. Thereafter, Israel came under the governance at first by elders; then by leaders appointed by God, like Moses and Joshua; next by judges; consequently, by the priest and prophet Samuel and, last of all, by kings from the time of Saul, which was about 1,050 years before Christ, Genesis (50:7); Exodus (3:16, 12:21, 24:1-4); Numbers (27:15-23); Deuteronomy (34:9); Joshua (1:1-18) and 1 Samuel (3:19, 4:1, 7:3-15, 8:1-22).
At God's command, the Prophet Samuel anointed Saul, a young man belonging to the tribe of Benjamin, as Israel's first king, and he reigned over Israel for twenty-two years, 1 Samuel (9:21, 13:1). Saul was a good king at the beginning of his reign, but slowly drifted away and became selfish, disobedient and unfaithful to God, 1 Samuel (10:20-26). Samuel then, in accordance with God's choice, named David, a young shepherd and a son of Jesse from the tribe of Judah as the second king of Israel, and he ruled Israel for forty years - seven years in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem, which became known as the City of David after he conquered it from Canaanite tribe of Jebusites, 1 Samuel (16:1-23); 1 Kings (2:11) and 2 Kings (5:7). Solomon, the tenth son of King David and his wife Bathsheba and renowned to this day for his wisdom and wealth, became David's successor and the third king of Israel. He ruled Israel for forty years, while ushering peace and prosperity in his time, and built the First Holy Temple.
Solomon's reign was later regarded as one of the greatest and most prosperous periods in Israel's history, 2 Samuel (5:1-4). Saul, David, and Solomon were kings of the United Kingdom of Israel, comprising the territories of all the twelve tribes of Israel, although the tribes' loyalty was somewhat forced. Around 930 years before Christ, and shortly after Solomon's son Rehoboam became king, ten tribes withdrew their allegiance to him, formed their own separate nation in northern Israel and proclaimed Solomon's servant Jeroboam as their king. The two tribes of Judah and Benjamin kept Solomon's son, Rehoboam, as their king and established the nation of Judah in the south, with Jerusalem as its capital, 1 Kings (2: 12, 11:42, 12:1-5) and 2 Chronicles (11). Thus, the united nation of Israel became divided after King Solomon's reign passed to his son.
After the succession of several kings for both Israel and Judah, Isaiah - one of the greatest of the prophets - appeared. It was approximately 740 years before the birth of Jesus; by then, these two kingdoms had remained separate nations for over two hundred years. Though living in Judah, Isaiah warned both the nations of the punishment to come because of their wickedness and defiance of God's standards, Isaiah (9:14:14-15).
Not long after, in 732 and just as Isaiah had predicted, the violent nation of Assyria invaded Israel and about ten to twenty years later, completely decimated Samaria, the capital city of Israel at that time, and took thousands of people into captivity. But Judah was spared the Assyrian's assault because of King Hezekiah's response of faith and Isaiah's intercession, 2 Kings (18:17-19:37) and 2 Chronicles (32:26). Yet, barely 150 years later, in 586, and before Christ, Isaiah's prophecy came true when Babylonians invaded Judah and eventually destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem and took most of the elite, including the prophet Daniel, into captivity in Babylon, Isaiah (37:1-20, 39:5-6) and 2 Kings (19:1-20, 24-25).
In the midst of his prophecy of doom and gloom, however, Isaiah had also given messages of forgiveness, consolation, hope and assurance of salvation and blessings to those who would experience that difficult time of Israel's history. He had specifically foretold the return of all the exiles, those exiled by Assyria as well as by Babylonia and also the restoration of all things that came to fruition 539 years before Christ, when Cyrus the Great, king of Persia, conquered Babylon and released the captive Jews who were permitted to return home and rebuild Jerusalem, Isaiah (44:28-45:1-13) and Daniel (6:26).
Four texts in the Book of Isaiah, commonly known as "Servant Songs" focus on the call and work of "God's servant", or "the servant of the Lord", Isaiah (42:1-4; 49:3, 5-6, 50:4-7; and 52:13-53-12). A part of the second Servant Song has been chosen as the first reading for today. The prophet initially records the Lord saying to him that he is His servant, Israel, through whom He would display His glory. Thereafter, he declares that:
Then again, the prophet recalls the Lord saying that his mission is to "raise up the tribes of Jacob" and "restore the survivors of Israel". Indeed, this is but a small task for him in comparison to what follows, whereby he later points out that God will make him a "light to the nations so that His salvation will reach to the ends of the earth". Thus, the servant summarizes the mission that God had determined for him even before his birth.
Two things need some clarification here:
As far as today's text is concerned, the servant is Israel in one sense, and yet in another sense, the servant prefigures Jesus Christ, the Messiah. Jesus is God's servant through whom He would show forth His glory. He is the Servant who would carry out the mission that God had preordained even before His birth. In contrast to all the previous servants, who had failed to prevail or the future servants, even the whole people or nation of Israel itself, who would fail at some time or another, He would come through His struggles and be victorious, and God will be glorified ultimately.
It would be too small a thing for Him to gather the scattered people of Israel, restore their temple and worship, defeat the enemies of the Israelites and reign forever as their Lord. Hence, He would be entrusted with a still greater and more glorious mission, that is, to redeem all humanity; to effect not only the transformation of Israel, but of the whole world. He would be serving as a light to the all nations, so that they too can share in the salvific promises of God.
What is the message for us?
Today, as the anointed servants of Christ Jesus, we are not only commissioned to speak words of encouragement and hope to those who feel crushed, abandoned, or are in despair but also to act as a light to the nations. We have been chosen by God Himself to fulfil this unique mission, a very exalted and demanding one at that. We must bring to all peoples the truth and as well as restore confidence in God's salvation among the doubtful and discouraged and, those who have lost sight of God's presence in their lives. We are to ensure that His salvation reaches the ends of the earth. Anything less than that would be too small a thing, too small for God, and too small for us. Jesus' mission has now become our mission.(P) Amen.
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