His singular achievement

Today we are presented with two announcements concerning parousia, the “coming” of the Messiah.

Lamb of God

The Greek word parousia literally means “presence, coming, arrival, or advent” although for most Christians it has come to mean the end time, when Christ will “come in glory.” Even Jesus used parousia many times to describe just such an event. For example, when he spoke to his disciples just before his passion and death he told them, “For just as lightning comes from the east and is seen as far as the west, so will the coming [parousia] of the Son of man be.1

When we read such passages, it makes it difficult for us to think of parousia as meaning anything other than “coming in glory”—the end times. Yet, this projects more than is merited onto a fairly common, and even mundane, Greek word. “Coming in glory” at the end of time is not what parousia originally meant.

This in no way precludes such a coming (parousia) at the end of time yet there is more that can be discerned if we take a closer look at the word itself.

Let us begin by considering the first reading for today from Isaiah 49. At first blush it would appear to be a conversation between God (Yahweh) and his servant people, Israel. Yet, that is in fact not the case at all, rather, it is believed by most theologians and exegetes to be a conversation between Yahweh and the Messiah. As one writer puts it: “You are my servant, and you will be a spectacular success; people will be able to see the glory of God by looking at you.”2 Here we hear the Father encouraging the Son, telling him how his success will reflect his glory. But in the verse that follows, which is omitted from today’s reading, the Messiah laments, “But I said: I have labored in vain, for naught and to no purpose have I spent my strength.”3

Clearly, the Messiah is expressing a profound sense of failure in his mission. Those who were present at his crucifixion would not have seen the glory of God in him at that moment. Indeed, most observers would have looked at it as a total failure.

But when we read verses 5-6, we hear God the Father reassuring the Messiah, his Son, by telling him he is glorious in his eyes and that he has his back, that God is his strength. God tells him that saving Israel would be an insufficient reason for his coming (parousia) into the world, that he will make him “a light to the nations,” so that “salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”4

Theologians are want to call the final parousia, the coming of Christ at the end of the age as the final “advent” when we will see him as he is. “Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”5

Each year we observe his coming, his parousia during the weeks of Advent, the coming of the Lord, which of course, presages his parousia—the arrival of Christ the Lord—at his birth, coming in human form.

Since the coming, parousia, of Christ—through the millennia that have followed—Christ has, as he promised, always been present, parousia, in the world. In his incarnation, he came into the world, he arrived, parousia; and, as he ascended into heaven, returning to the Father, his last words were a promise to remain with us forever. “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”6 His parousia—his presence—remains with us today and will be with us until he comes again.

Christ’s enduring parousia—presence—and Christian hope for an imminent parousia have been recognized since the early days of the church, born of faith in a liturgical parousia. Consider how often we hear “The Lord be with you” throughout the liturgy, admitting to the presence of Christ in all those present.

Theologian Jaroslav Pelikan has observed that “The coming of Christ was ‘already’ and ‘not yet’: he had come already—in the incarnation, and on the basis of the incarnation would come in the Eucharist; he had come already in the Eucharist, and would come at the last in the new cup that he would drink with them in his Father’s kingdom.” Liturgical parousia was universally understood from the earliest days of the church.

What the ancients saw in the liturgy was the coming of Christ: the parousia; and what they meant by parousia is what Catholic theology came to express as the “real presence” or “substantial presence” of Jesus Christ.<sup7

When we celebrate the liturgy—that is the “breaking of the bread”—we experience what the earliest Christians experienced: the glorious coming, parousia, and real presence, parousia, of the Lord.

In the Gospel, John sees Jesus coming toward him and exclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. … he is the Son of God.” John saw Jesus coming, parousia, in the sense of a visit by an emperor or king, a sometime used meaning of the word, for he knew that Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah, and a king.

But there is more than an acknowledgment of kingship in his acclamation which we should consider. John calls him the “Lamb of God” and claims that his mission is to take away the “sin of the world.”

We are thoroughly familiar with the phrase because we hear it at every Mass. “This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” but we probably have never given it much thought.

Unblemished lambs” were a common sacrifice in Jewish temple liturgy, sacrificed for their innocence as a pure offering to God for his provenance. In the same way, Jesus offered himself as a pure, unblemished sacrifice for the sake of all the world. He was a sinless—pure, unblemished—member of a sinful people.

It is interesting that the original word for “lamb” in Aramaic was “talyã’,” which meant not only “lamb” but also “slave” or “servant.” Whichever interpretation you might prefer, surprisingly fits, don’t you think? Perhaps, John the Baptist intended any or all of those meanings.

Notice also that John doesn’t use the plural but the singular when he says, “the sin of the world.” The Greek that is used here is ten hamarten which is the singular. The liturgy alternates between the two perspectives: in the Gloria we find the singular (“you take away the sin of the world”) while as previously noted, we hear the plural at the Lamb of God, (“you take away the sins of the world”).

We recognize the sinful nature of humankind; we accept our concupiscence, our inclination to sin. We all sin, and we sin in different ways and at different times. Although we can speak of “sins” (in the plural), but all our sins are of a single piece; they are simply different manifestations of our sinfulness, our sinful nature. In a very real sense, it is our “original” sin, our sinful nature, that is most important here, and it is in understanding the nature of original sin that must be taken into consideration.

The original sin our first parents committed was not a simple act of disobedience but rather in placing themselves on equality with God, believing they were gods. And we are often guilty of the same.

Thus it is original sin which John the Baptist refers when he sees Jesus approach. It is the one sin, more than any other sin, which is in most need of forgiveness. It is the one sin common to all humanity. It is the sin of the whole world. All other sins are but different manifestations of original sin for they all embody the belief that the sinner has no need for or cares less for God. Sin of any kind denies our need for God. To different degrees when we sin we state by our thought and deed that there is no God, no truth, and that all that matters is the self.

Let us remember that Christ is always parousia. Let us turn away from sin and welcome his parousia into our lives.

Amen.

 

Homily #105
The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Isaiah 49:3, 5-6
1 Corinthians 1:1-3
John 1:29-34


1 Mt 24:27.
2 Eleonore Stump, Failure, The Sunday Website of St. Louis University.
3 Is 49:4.
4 Is 49:6.
5 Mt 28:20.
6 1 Jn 3:2.
7 Brian E. Daley, The Hope of the Early Church: A Handbook of Patristic Eschatology (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003), pp. 12-13.

Deacon Chuck

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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