Saturday, January 14, 2017

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

A More Meaningful Classification of Sins

Most of us are familiar with the traditional classification of sins. There are mortal sins and there are venial sins. Recently mortal sins are labeled as serious sins and venial sins are labeled as less serious or light sins.

Mortal sins are those sins which are about serious or grave matters, like murder, kidnapping, and done with deliberate intent with full freedom or with no coercion involved. Venial sins are those which involve light matters, like cheating in a class exam, shoplifting a small grocery item, or a serious matter not done with deliberation or restricted in freedom, like over-killing someone in self-defense.

Our Gospel reading today tells us of another classification of sins. It is grammatically a simple classification of sins but this classification has a very significant consequence in our life. Grammatically sins are either singular or plural. A sin is either singular, sin, or plural, sins. That is how simple it is. But the difference can spell a life of freedom or a life of slavery.

The very first sentence in our Gospel today reads, "John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." There we have the first kind of sins. It is sin. It is singular. John the Baptizer did not make a mistake in using the singular form. He meant it to be singular. He was referring to the sin of the world. This is the sin that Jesus took away with his passion, death and resurrection. Jesus took away also our many sins but he also took away the sin of the world.

Jesus did take away our personal sins together with our original sin, and that is plural but John the Baptizer affirms that he takes away the sin of the world. By the way this is the sentence that the priest or other Eucharistic minister uses to address us before he takes communion and gives the sacred species to us. He says, “This is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.” But this time the Ritual for the Mass has turned the “sin” to “sins”, it has become plural. 

So today we reflect on what this sin of the world is which John the Baptizer says Jesus took away.

Several Bible commentators have noticed this difference and have shown us why in this particular instance the singular form is used. in its series on John says: ““Sin” is singular, heaping together all the trillions of sins in human history into one gigantic pile.”

Johann Albrecht in Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament has this very significant comment: “The singular number, with the article, [gives it] the greatest force. [There was] the one plague, which seized on all; He bore the whole; He did not so bear one part [of our sin], as not to bear the other.”

In other words the singular emphasized the collective character of sin. Sin had infected all humanity, and not only all humanity, but even all the world. It is in every facet of our life, in all our thoughts, words and actions. It has infected not only our planet earth or our solar system but all the world, with its billions of stars, planets and whatever creatures may be there.

This is the sin that Jesus as lamb of God takes away. The Greek word used for “takes away”, like other Greek words, has more than one meaning. It also means take upon oneself, lift up, bear. So the full meaning can be: Jesus takes upon himself the sin of the whole world, lifts it up to all of us to show its hideousness and ugliness and removes it away from himself and from all of us and the rest of the universe.

As Johann Albrecht says: “The Lamb of God first took the load of sin off the world on Himself, then rolled it off from Himself.”
Why is this so important? Because it addresses two problems we have about sin or sins. The first problem is in our personal inner experience. Many of us have gone to confession confessing the same sin over and over again. It may be lack of self-control in our anger or in our sex drives. Or a lack of honesty in our business dealings. Or a bad habit which we want to get rid of, like smoking or drinking without control. Or just a repugnance towards a certain person which we think is not correct. We experience the drive within us to commit sins. Theologians label this as concupiscence, the tendency to sin.

The second problem we have about sin is that we see sins all around us. We just have to open the news report in our television or switch on our radio to see and hear that such and such crimes have been committed: murder, terrorism, rape, kidnapping, robbery, theft, drug abuse, corruption of government officials, and so forth.

These two problems are with us, the inner tendency to sin and the occurrences of sins all around us, seemingly out of control.

We may not realize that our Gospel reading for today solves these two problems. When the Holy Spirit through John the Baptist tells us to look at Jesus, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, he means that Jesus is taking away the sin in us and in all the world.

Coffman in his Commentaries on the Bible gives this comment: “Christ removes sin far away. He takes away the guilt, the penalty and the practice of sin.”

Notice carefully what Coffman says. Jesus takes away the guilt, the penalty and the practice of sin.

That is why our second reading is very brief but to the point. It only takes half a minute to read it. Here it is again: 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.” Very brief indeed.

This letter is addressed also to us, as it was addressed to the Christians at Corinth. Paul affirms in this letter that we have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, we are called to be holy. How did this happen? It happened in Christ Jesus. Notice Paul’s words “sanctified in Christ Jesus”. In Christ we do not have any sin, because he has taken any sin that we have and nailed it to his cross. In Christ we have the new resurrected life that he has, which life is beyond sin.

This is the secret of a sinless life, a life where our concupiscences or bad tendencies are under complete control by the Spirit of Jesus, not by our will power. It is either we believe Paul the Apostle as he writes to us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit or we continue in our sins.

The Corinthian Christians were also surrounded by wickedness, especially sexual wickedness. But Paul says they have been sanctified. This is because as John the Baptist says, Jesus takes away their sins.

The first reading tells us that this glorious situation of a sinless world after Jesus has taken away our sins is universal. It has reached the nations, the ends of the earth.

That is true because we believe. For those who do not believe they are still in their sins. But for us who believe the situation is completely different. The new life, the resurrected life of Jesus is in us, and we are spreading it around despite the crimes we see around us.

Let us pray with our heads bowed down. Lord Jesus, you are the lamb of God who takes away the sin in us and around us. Help us to believe what Paul your apostle said that in you we have been sanctified and are called to be holy. Amen.

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Note for the readers:

The Mass readings are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is where our Lectionary gets the readings.

NAB stands for New American Bible (before it was revised). This is the translation I use. Unless otherwise stated the text I use is from this translation.

AV stands for Authorized Version of the Bible. It is more commonly referred to as the King James Bible. It is the version most used in English literature, therefore it is the one known more by the English speaking world.

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