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Terrance KleinJanuary 11, 2023
Photo from Unsplash.

A Homily for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Isaiah 49:3, 5-6 1 Corinthians 1:1-3 John 1:29-34

We normally narrate a life story from beginning to end, from birth to death, but for our purposes we should take up Debbie’s story on the day that everything turned. Young Debbie had been married just eight years and her baby son was only a few months old when a car ran a traffic light and collided straight into her side of the vehicle.

Debbie would have died that day in central Kansas, but a Denver emergency room physician, far from home, happened upon the accident. He saved her life on the side of the road, by performing an emergency tracheotomy.

Now, let’s go back to the beginning of Debbie’s life. She was one of four small-town sisters, all of them musically gifted. Debbie could play anything on the piano by ear. Bright and effervescent, she led her sisters in a musical ensemble that toured Kansas in the sixties. They were called “The Teen Timers and Debbie.”

Debbie’s beauty and personality had served up the world to her. Graduating from high school, the hometown cheerleader went off to study at the University of Kansas before deciding that cosmetology should be her career.

The brain injury she suffered on the day of the accident changed everything. Debbie would live the rest of her life, some 44 years, in nursing care. At first her hometown rallied to provide in-home care—surely neighbors could pitch in for the young mother—until it became clear that the extra care would never end. Debbie’s marriage survived the accident by only a few years.

We are also called to be lambs of God, to join our adversities to his, to suffer on behalf of others.

If Debbie’s story had shifted to a nursing home where she long outlived any happiness in life, the moralizing would be simple enough: We should never take life for granted.

But Debbie did not slip into silence and shadows. Instead, she became an inspiration to her fellow residents and caregivers. Debbie mastered one-handed piano playing. She regularly ventured out of the nursing facility so that she could attend her son’s school activities. She did the same with her grandchildren’s. Debbie was the sort of resident who asked to be wheeled into open fields so that she could watch the sun go down.

At her death, her caregivers posted on Facebook:

She made our home a bright, happy place, full of her energy, faith, and spirit. Now, we are just a little empty without her. Anyone who knew Deb knew what a strong, powerful, faithful woman she was. She could light up a room with her smile. She was amazing and beautiful and incredibly humble. Through all her struggles she never gave up. She did not live by “what if” and “I can’t.” She said through God, all things are possible, and she did it, even if it hurt. Even to the end, she fought hard and then left us tenderly. If you knew her, you were the lucky one. She was our love, our beautiful, beautiful girl, and we will never forget the impact she made in our lives. Everyone has a different treasured memory with her because she made everyone feel special. She was our brightest hello, our hardest goodbye.

This did not just happen. Debbie struggled as we do. She became depressed when told she was entering hospice care, yet a small visit from her pastor reset her resolve.

So the moral of the story becomes one of acceptance. When we can change our lives for the better, we should. Indeed, we should not rest until we at least try. But there is so much in life that does not come round, that takes a turn from which it never recovers. Then we must learn acceptance. We must become a Lamb of God.

St. John’s Gospel has no infancy narratives. The first time we see Jesus in the fourth Gospel is as an adult, striding towards us. John the Baptist tells us to turn and to look:

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (1:29).

John is a kinsman. That would explain how he has already identified his cousin as the promised Messiah. Much harder to explain is the moniker he employs: “Lamb of God.”

Lambs were sacrificial animals. So, in one verse, the evangelist identifies Jesus, through the mouth of the Baptist, as both Israel’s Messiah and Isaiah’s suffering servant of God. The promised one comes to his people to suffer, to be a sacrificial lamb.

As in so much else, it would fall to the genius of St. Paul to work out the implications of God’s action on our behalf, how we are to respond. He told his flock in Colossae,

In my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church (Col 1:24).

Nothing is, or can be, incomplete in Christ’s redemptive suffering. It ends all alienation from God. When St. Paul spoke of filling up what is lacking in our Lord’s afflictions, he was referring to our role in the mystery of Christ’s redemptive suffering. We are also called to be lambs of God, to join our adversities to his, to suffer on behalf of others.

There is so much in life that does not come round, that takes a turn from which it never recovers. Then we must learn acceptance. We must become a Lamb of God.

No one escapes the suffering that sin brought into the world. And there are no comparisons to be made between the sorrows of one person and those of another. It wouldn’t be suffering if it did not strike each one of us at the core of our being.

Our faith doesn’t remove or resolve suffering. It simply says—in the words of the Baptist, which we repeat at every Eucharist—“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” In response, we either choose to imitate Jesus, surrendering our lives to a seemingly absent and indifferent Father, or we close in upon ourselves. We give way to despair.

If we choose the first, we conform ourselves to the Lamb of God. His saving task, the acceptance of his Father’s will, becomes our own. Like St. Paul, we then “fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church.”

When Jesus walked into his adult life, John the Baptist surrendered it to him. Christ became the meaning of that life.

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 (1:30-31).

A terrible accident cleaved Debbie’s life into two pieces, but she is the one who labeled each of them, giving to each its eternal meaning. The first she inscribed, “what I have been given by the Lord.” The second, “what I can give back to the Lord.”

More: Scripture

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