Complete the Work
by Rev. James C. Hudgins
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
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 un 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.”
Contrition for sin begins with a simple awareness - there's a terrible chasm of difference between who I am and who I know I ought to be. Everyone with a healthy conscience knows the feeling. We think, speak or act in an inconsiderate, self-absorbed or spiteful manner and then wonder, "Where did that come from?"
The truth of the matter is that we know it came from us. Repeated acts of sin bring us face to face with the odious reality that something in our souls is terrible askew. This spiritual disorder was not acquired by osmosis. We were born with it. Observe the behavior of two small children, for example, who both want to play with the same toy. Watch as these two otherwise innocent souls suddenly erupt into an ugly fight. Were did that ugliness come from? Sin began in the Garden of Eden, and ever since that time, the human heart has yearned that it might somehow be taken away.
The Old Testament is a long tale of man's incapacity to redeem himself from sin. It's also a tale of God's steadfast refusal to abandon us. Every year on the feast of Passover, the Israelites would sacrifice a lamb in the temple as a remembrance of their freedom from slavery and the covenant that God once made with his people. The lamb, sacrificed to God at a sacred time, was a symbol of the redemption the world yearned for. The lamb reminded the people that there was an atonement to be made. But no one actually believed that all that was wrong with the world could suddenly be set aright by the offering of a poor lamb. The Passover lamb helped the people remember God's promise to redeem the world- but the people still waited for that promise to be fulfilled.
Then one day, John the Baptist appeared in the desert of Judea. He was the first prophet Israel had seen in more than 400 years. John saw Jesus standing by the shore of the Jordan River; pointed to him and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world: (Jn 1:29). This is where our Gospel for this week begins. This is the first public appearance of Jesus in the Gospels, and from the outset, his mission is clear. Jesus is the long-awaited messiah, the promised one come to reverse the ancient curse. The prophet Isaiah once said that the messiah would be like an innocent lamb led to the slaughter, and that he would set the world free by taking sin onto himself (Is 53:7-8). Now, John tells the people that at long last, he is here - the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Jesus' mission is not just to forgive sin. His mission is not just to remit the punishment for sin. Jesus has come to take sin away. His followers will have a power that has never been known before in all history. The power that defeats sin is God's grace, which is God's very life in our human souls. Jesus is not a spiritual guru who unveils the sublime mysteries of things unseen. Jesus is God in human flesh who alone has the power to untie what sin divided. His grace, which he gives us, has the power to untie fallen human nature to the nature of God himself. This union of man with God is the redemption that every heart in the world has yearned for, down through the centuries, and even to this day. This announcement of Jesus - the simple message of the Gospel this week - is the greatest news in history. May we allow God's grace to complete the work he has begun.