A reading from the prophecy of Isaiah
This Book of the Prophet Isaiah was not written by one person. It is, rather, a collection of writing composed over many centuries by several prophets and placed together under the name of Isaiah—one of the greatest prophets of Israel. One of the most important themes in these prophecies is that of the Suffering Servant that we encounter in today’s reading: “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name. He made me a sharp- edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm.” “You are my servant, he said to me, Israel, through whom I show my glory. Though I thought I had toiled in vain and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, yet my reward is with the Lord, my recompense is with my God.”
We can see the parallel here with John the Baptist who also was called from birth, was misunderstood in his short life, and was murdered seemingly before he could finish his mission. Yet, he did not toil in vain; he was a successful messenger for Jesus, and he was rewarded by God for his work.
Even when we fail in some part of our lives, it may be that there is another dimension, another truth, another level of success that we can know only in the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Each of us has a mission, a calling from God to live in his love, to share his unconditional love, as insufficient and unsuccessful our mission may seem at any given time.
(Psalm 139:1b-3; 13-14ab, 14c-15)
“I praise you for I am wonderfully made.” Do you think you are “wonderfully made”? When we are growing up, we may feel awkward and insecure. As we get much older, we may feel like a shadow of our younger selves. So, how can we feel wonderfully made through it all? Only if we see ourselves loved and gifted by our Father, even in—and especially in—our weaknesses and insufficiencies.
A reading from the Acts of the Apostles
Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles as a continuation of his Gospel, directed mainly at gentiles. He wanted to help these converts as well as Jews to see the Jesus connection between David, the king of Israel hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, and John the Baptist—both as called by God. “From this man’s descendants God, according to his promise, has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus. John heralded his coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel; and as John was completing his course, he would say, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.’” John knew his role, his calling, his place in history. He did not try to be more than he was. He was given a calling, a gift from God, and he was faithful to it.
Each of us has been given a calling and gifts to fulfill that call. What is your calling in life, and what are the gifts that you have been given along the way and right now to answer your call? Do you see yourself as gifted? You are, we all are, only very often we do not believe it or focus on it. God asks us to humbly accept the gifts we have been given and use them to serve our Father and those with whom we share life.
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 1:57-66, 80)
Throughout the Old Testament, we read of the miraculous birth and life of numerous prophets and great leaders starting with the birth of Abraham’s son Isaac when Abraham’s wife was supposedly too old to give birth. For hundreds of years before the birth of John the Baptist, there were no significant prophets in Israel. Then came this strange man, John the Baptist, so his birth is told as a wonder-filled story, because he is in the words of Jesus “the greatest of the prophets.” John preached a message of repentance and baptized many others before he baptized Jesus. He prepared the way for Jesus, was his cousin, and yet we do not know if they were friends while growing up or even if Jesus knew him before John baptized him. But none of that is important. What is of utmost importance is that John “prepared the way for the Lord.” He had a calling, a mission from God, and he fulfilled it in a wonder-filled way.
Do you feel that it is unlikely that you have been called, that you have a mission, that you are to prepare the way for Jesus to enter—or in some cases reenter—the lives of people you know and love and even perhaps someone you hardly know? As unlikely as it might seem, that is part of the mission of each of us —to prepare the way of the Lord.
Painting: "John the Baptist Preaching by Matia Preti, circa 1665. Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. Public Domain.
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.