Second Sunday in Ordinary time
1 Corinthias 1:1-3
Who was Jesus Christ? Who is Jesus Christ? These are the most important questions that we, his friends and followers, can ask. John the Baptist has answered those questions. In introducing him to people as their Saviour, John calls Jesus ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’. He adds: ‘The Spirit of God is on Jesus.’ Let’s focus, then, on John’s insight into the identity of Jesus by asking a. What is sin? and b. How does Jesus, the sacrificial lamb given to us by God for our salvation, remove it and set us free?
‘Sin’ is the word we use for anything that stops us from staying open to God and God’s loving influence upon us. It’s about anything dysfunctional, nasty, false, mean, hurtful, and unloving about us. It shows itself again and again in jealousy, hatred, hostility, cruelty and revenge, wars, and class struggles. It is revealed in lies, fraud, and deceit, as well as in acts of violence, torture, racial prejudice, and injustice.
Sin, in fact, is the opposite of being friendly, caring, and helpful, like those generous men, women, and children, reaching out recently with so much generosity, compassion, and concern to the victims of the terrible floods, that kept swamping forests, grasslands, houses, people, livestock and wildlife, in many regions of Australia.
Some of the sin that afflicts us causes us to hurt others and, in hurting others to hurt ourselves. We could act in a kind and helpful way to someone in need, e.g., but we find it too much trouble and effort. Or we are afraid that others might sneer at us if we do. So, we let slip the opportunities that come our way. That is sin, the sin of omission. We know we should not judge others. But we get some kind of perverse pleasure in putting others down. This leads us to slip in that extra anecdote that puts another in a bad light. That is sin. nWe know that certain things we do upset, hurt, and harm others. But we don’t care, and we keep doing them anyway. That is wilful, that is sin. We know that we need space to be alone with God. But we avoid quiet and silence for prayer. So, we never bother to ask God what God wants of us or ask God to empower us to do it. That too is sin.
Until now, I’ve been speaking of the kind of sin that is deliberate and for which we are personally responsible. But much selfish behaviour also comes from our genes and the environment around us and for which we are only partly responsible. This kind of sin includes different sorts of addictions and compulsions and habits such as too much gambling that may drive us towards making wrong choices.
The seagull cannot be blamed for the oil slick that clogs up its wings and makes it unable to fly. Much sin is, in fact, partly environmental and hereditary. We call it ‘original sin’ for it comes more from our human condition, our human origins, and our human situations, than from malice and fully deliberate bad choices. But it is still sin and it can entangle, trap, imprison and dominate us just the same.
This brings us to the second question: How does Jesus take away both kinds of sin, the deliberate and the not-so-deliberate? He does it the way we take the darkness away – by turning on the light. He does it the way we take hatred away – by introducing love. He does it the way we take the loneliness away – by steering us toward good people. This is not an automatic process. For we can choose to live in the dark; we can choose to remain isolated; and we can entertain hatred and resentment. But Jesus has shown us another way and empowered us to live another way, a different way; He has baptised us with his own Spirit, the Holy Spirit. He has poured out on us the fire of God’s love.
Perhaps our awareness of all this will make some difference to the way we pray those three petitions at Mass, just before we receive Jesus Christ and others in Holy Communion. ‘Lamb of God,’ we say to Jesus, God’s sacrificial Lamb, ‘you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us … (repeat). Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, grant us peace.
Brian Gleeson, CP, is a Passionist priest and a member of St Gabriel’s Passionist Community, Endeavour Hills, Victoria.