Sunday, January 12, 2014

Jesus: The Sin-Bearer Messiah. A Homily for January 19, 2014, from John 1:29-34.

January 19, 2014
2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A.
(edited and revised from a previous 
Homily posted 1.9.11)

Today’s Lectionary Gospel reading for the second Sunday in Ordinary Time asks us to recall the moment when John the Baptizer proclaimed that Jesus, the sin-bearer-Messiah, had finally arrived. 

The Baptizer declares:
John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
What could such a declaration mean? 

In part it meant that John identified Jesus as the one toward whom the Baptizer's ministry had pointed all along: "...the reason why I came baptizing with water,” says John, “was that he might be made known to Israel.

What a relief of burden this must have been for the Baptizer, when the one toward whom his life had pointed and toward whom he was constantly directing the crowds finally appeared. This meant John’s work was nearly accomplished. But this is only part of the story.

Why did Jesus need to be known to Israel?

John’s pronouncement sanctioned Jesus as the One bearing the Holy Spirit and therefore as being the Messiah of GOD. So, this was Good News to be proclaimed! This was Good News to be announced. Namely, that the the Promised One of Israel had finally arrived and could be received by repentance and baptism.

But, if the Promised One of Israel, the Sin-Bearer had come, then whose sins would Messiah bear? 

Well, first, it had to be Israel’s sins. Clearly, Israel’s sins had brought them to exile, even a cursory reading of the prophets would tell us this. Take for example Daniel 9:
4 I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying,“Ah, Lord, great and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love with those who love you and keep your commandments, 5 we have sinned and done wrong, acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and ordinances. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.7 “Righteousness is on your side, O Lord, but open shame, as at this day, falls on us, the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. 8 Open shame, O Lord, falls on us, our kings, our officials, and our ancestors, because we have sinned against you. 9 To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him, 10 and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by following his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.  (Daniel 9:4-10)
Or, think about this quote from Lamentations 4:
The punishment of your iniquity, O daughter Zion, is accomplished,     he will keep you in exile no longer; but your iniquity, O daughter Edom, he will punish,     he will uncover your sins. (Lamentations 4:22)
This is, at least in part, what that final upper room meal was all about. That was a Passover, remember, celebrating the first Exodus, when the doorposts, bloody with lamb’s gore, provided inclusion into the new community’s covenant. Surely, what is at stake in the blood of the lamb is more than saving the individual’s life. No, as important as this was, it meant inclusion a community action, it meant membership in the new community of living priests that GOD formed as his chosen people.

St. Matthew records it in this way:
26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Mt.26:26-29)
Quoting N.T. Wright:
“Jesus offer of the Kingdom…and his regular offer of forgiveness of sins, mean, in effect: this is how exile is ending! This is how God becomes King! This is how evil is defeated! This is how Yahweh is returning to Zion!
I am often brought to think of the affliction and burden Jesus must have felt as the density of his mission came upon his shoulders in the form of a light-weight dove. Did Jesus really believe that the dove symbolized peace? I wonder. What we do know is the sin-bearer would know little peace in his short life.

Thinking down this road a little farther, what must it have felt like to be the sin-bearer? What massive dissonance must have run though Jesus' mind when the people he loved in sacrificial offering either cared little for his movement toward them in atonement or hated him for it. What thoughts must have braced Jesus' mind when the sober light of the desert day brought the realization that the sacrifice that cost so much was appreciated by so few.

Well, know this, Jesus fulfilled his calling anyway, and the carnage of the cross and the victory of the resurrection brought defeat to both evil and empire. But, it did more than this, it also brought to those who would name the name of the Lamb of God the very same calling as well.  

So, here’s this morning’s question for us: Do we really wish the life of sacrificial love and reconciling forgiveness that he offers? Do we really desire to take on his yoke and learn of him:
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mt. 11:29)? 
Sometimes we do, I suppose, but speaking now for myself I more often than not seem to struggle with his easy yoke. Presumably, the yoke is easy because Jesus shares it with us, but in reality I don't want the yoke at all. Most of the time I simply want to go my own way not his. I want the life of ease and plenty, not sacrifice and poverty. So, I find I can pay lip service to the sacrificial Jesus-way of service, but in the end that is what I mostly offer -- talk.

Said another way, it is a monumental task for us to become untangled from our cultural captivity. We are trapped by our affluence and strangled by our self-entertainment. Most of us have never been seriously challenged to see the Jesus-way as different from the American way. Our values may be rightly called self-absorbed.

Finally, then, how do we find and live this rule of life that Jesus presents? How do we carry the burden of world at war with itself? How do we care for others when we really want others to care for us? 

In truth, we must have help. In truth, we must have empowerment from beyond ourselves, from beyond our selfishness, for we can never untangle ourselves.

Our text offers us such hope. St. John tells us that Jesus is marked by the Spirit. This endowment of Jesus with the Spirit of GOD is the driving force behind his ministry. Said another way, Jesus is totally dependent upon the Spirit for his ministry, and he is totally smeared with this anointing of the Spirit. 

To think fully about what the text means to tell us is to grasp that no matter what ones believes about the internal nature of Jesus, he is also a person just like we are people, living his life within the parameters of the human condition. And St. John would have us know that his power and sacrifice came from the anointing of the Spirit of GOD. This means his temptations were real; his struggles were real. If not, how is Jesus a genuine example for us? 

If he truly is our example, as I am arguing, then he truly is our way to a genuine humanity? And this genuine humanity occurs within us and among us because we share the self-same Holy Spirit, and we share the same calling to a sacrificial life. The only way to enter this calling and the life we share together is through the same empowerment from the Spirit, in the same way that he had. In this way the Spirit of GOD causes us to become the body of Christ -- which provides Jesus’ continuing incarnation to this world at war with itself. Jesus is here again, at once, alive, in and through his people.