In Year A of the Lectionary, which is this year, the readings for the first three Sundays in Epiphany give special attention to the important connection between Isaiah, John the Baptist, and Jesus. In this way, these weeks build a bridge between the Old and New Testaments.
The passage from Isaiah for Epiphany II sets out a much larger divine plan than any that the previous prophets had proclaimed. They had addressed a corrupt and wayward Israel, urging a return to its God-given mission. But God tells Isaiah, “it is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations”. God’s call, in other words, is no longer to be confined to the Children of Israel. Isaiah has a far more significant task – to ensure that the message of God’s salvation “may reach to the end of the earth."
Ultimately, this task is to be accomplished by a messiah. In the Gospel reading, John the Evangelist conveys the spiritual intensity that enables John the Baptist to perceive the messiahship of Jesus long before others manage to do so. “I did not know him”, he tells us, “but I came baptizing with water . . . that he might be revealed to Israel”. Consequently, when John sees Jesus coming towards him, he declares “Here is the Lamb of God”.
The expression 'Lamb of God' is now so well-worn, it is easy to miss the religious implications of this extraordinary metaphor. It forges a connection between past, present and future, and does so by means of two powerful resonances that were deeply engrained in the consciousness of the Jews. The first is the memory of the Passover Lamb, the sprinkling of whose blood on the doorposts played a key part in the Israelites' liberation from slavery. The second is the Suffering Servant of the book of Isaiah, who is led ‘like a Lamb to the slaughter’. Thus, by means of this single image, John connects Jesus with the Israel’s hopes and history.
This Gospel passage, however, takes the bridge building a step further. Among the first to hear John’s metaphor are Andrew and Simon. It is given to the otherwise undistinguished Andrew to grasp the truth, and tell his subsequently much more distinguished brother “We have seen the Messiah” – the “Anointed” for whom, as devout Jews, they have been taught to yearn since infancy. Together they take the first hesitant steps on a new spiritual quest. It is a quest that will bring them initially to the disillusionment of Passiontide. But thereafter, they witness the transformation of Easter that in the end equips them both for martyrdom.
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