The 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Isaiah 49:3, 5-6
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 40:2, 4, 7-10
Second Reading: Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 1:1-3
Gospel: According to St. John 1:29-34
Psalm 40 is a fascinating work for a number of reasons, one of which is that it is – to venture into the realm of the sports analogy/cliché – a psalm of two halves. In the first half of the psalm, the section used for Mass this weekend, we are given the heartening story of God’s intervention, mercy, and grace. These characteristics place Psalm 40 in the category of a “thanksgiving psalm,” a fitting choice for the first Sunday after the conclusion of the liturgical season of Christmastime. God has entered the world, and the Messiah’s presence changes everything.
The psalm’s opening line, “I have waited, waited for the Lord, and he stooped toward me and heard my cry,” says it all: God has broken into our world in the most incredible way possible – He has become one of us. From the beginning of humanity’s presence on earth, heaven has been bombarded with a continuous plea for deliverance from a world of constant travail, of seemingly never-ending pain. And in response to our cry, God, at one very specific point in time, sent His Son, the Eternal Logos, to become our Incarnate Messiah and bring us eternal respite from our pain.
What does not appear in this Sunday’s responsorial psalm is the latter half of Psalm 40, a series of verses that plant this particular hymn in the category of “psalm of lament.” The psalmist writes, “evils surround me until they cannot be counted. My sins overtake me so that I can no longer see. They are more numerous than the hairs of my head; my courage fails me.” It would be difficult to find a more clear statement of the condition of fallen humanity, even after the coming of the Messiah into the world. God has taken on our nature, yet the world is still filled with pain, injustice, and sin.
In the latter half of the psalm, the author describes those who are pursuing him, but, more importantly, he declares that his own sins have so overwhelmed him that he has literally lost heart. We can imagine what is going through his head: “Sure, others are out to get me, but more deadly than that is the fact that I am out to get myself.”
Amidst this spiritual peril, the words of John the Baptist can give the sinner hope of salvation: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” These words, repeated at every Mass, every day, in every chapel, parish, basilica, and cathedral throughout the world, proclaim the ultimate purpose of the Incarnation: the Self-sacrificial offering of the Incarnate Logos at Calvary.
We are called on this first post-Christmastime Sunday to ponder the Incarnation, the “stooping” of God toward us. But we are also given a hint that – even at the beginning of the Season of Ordinary Time – the Cross is lurking in the shadows. Unseen but always present, it reminds us of the unconditional, sacrificial love proclaimed by John the Baptist and lived out by the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.