There was a famous American painter over 100 years ago named John Singer Sargent. He spent much of his life in London, England; there he became famous for painting flattering and heroic-looking portraits of important figures in English society. However, he also spent some time in the United States, and here he painted some pictures of a serious nature more worthy of his talents. One of Sargent’s greatest works, for instance, shows Christ upon the Cross—but it’s not a traditional rendering of the Crucifixion. Instead, kneeling on either side of the Cross are Adam and Eve, each holding a chalice in order to catch the Blood dripping from the pierced hands of Jesus. A great robe covers all three figures, a robe symbolizing the unity between the crucified Christ and sinful humanity, and on the Cross is an inscription saying, “The sins of the world are taken away” (Msgr. Arthur Tonne, Stories for Sermons, Vol. 1, #229).
As John the Baptist says in the Gospel, Jesus is “the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world.” Our Lord did indeed come to take away our sins, transforming us from hopeless sinners into redeemed members of the family of God. This is the most important gift any of us can receive, for only in this way can we find inner peace and spiritual freedom, only in this way can we achieve our purpose on earth and avoid wasting our lives, and only in this way can we be made ready for eternal life in Heaven. Jesus is our Savior, and by our words and deeds we must express our gratitude and share this truth with others.
If someone saved our life—perhaps by carrying us out of a burning building while we were unconscious, or by pushing us out of the way of a speeding car—we’d be very grateful, and we might even want to do favors for or help that person from then on, especially if we learned that he or she was going about looking for suffering people to assist. Helping that person would be a way of transforming our gratitude into loving service. Our readings for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time speak of some great servants of God, and of how their service was an expression of faith and love. St. John the Baptist (John 1:29-34) was willing to live a harsh life out in the wilderness, to preach a message of repentance, and to deflect attention away from himself by pointing others to Jesus, for as he said, “The reason why I came baptizing with water was that He might be made known to Israel.” St. Paul also pointed others to Jesus; as a faithful servant of Christ, he begins his 1st Letter to the Corinthians (1:1-3) by acknowledging the will of God and by sharing peace in Christ’s Name. The greatest servant of all, of course, is Jesus Himself. Our first reading from Isaiah (49:3, 5-6) describes God saying of Him, “You are My servant . . . through Whom I show My glory.” Jesus faithfully glorified His heavenly Father by the way He lived His life, and served others by proclaiming the good news of salvation. However, in this passage God also says, “It is too little . . . for You to be My servant. . . . I will make You a light to the nations, that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” This promise was fulfilled through Christ’s saving death and resurrection.
I remember reading, several decades ago, of how a well-known American celebrity publicly disparaged Christ and Christianity, saying, “I don’t need a Savior.” This remark came from a man notorious for sins of pride, adultery, religious bigotry, arrogance, and greed—but he felt he was doing just find in life, and didn’t need help from Jesus or anyone else. As Our Lord once said, “There are none so blind as those who will not see.” It is impossible for Jesus to save those who stubbornly refuse to accept the gift of salvation, or for Him to take away the sins of those persons who will not even admit that they have sinned. This tragic but unavoidable truth also applies to nations and societies—including our own. When it comes to abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, embryonic stem cell research, and genetic experimentation, along with a general spirit of greed, violence, and sexual immorality, many Americans scoff at the idea of divine authority, reject moral limitations on their choices, and refuse to acknowledge being in any way accountable for their sins. We, as faithful Christians and as grateful servants of our Savior, are called to do what we can to change that.
This means putting our faith into practice without fear or hesitation, and doing what’s right and defending God’s truth without worrying about what others will think or whether they’ll be offended or upset at us. It means trying to give a good example by obeying Christ’s commandments and the Church’s teachings, and training our children and young people to do so, as well. It means refusing to go along with the crowd or to accept society’s misguided values, but instead practicing the Golden Rule and the Beatitudes and other forms of Christian morality—even when they’re difficult or inconvenient. It means voting only for pro-life candidates, and doing whatever we can to defend God’s gift of life—including writing letters to the editor in our newspapers or promoting the Gospel of Life in various forms of social media, taking part in pro-life marches or events, and supporting the right-to-life movement with our contributions and prayers. It means praying for, seeking, and using opportunities to talk to others about Jesus, sharing our faith in a gentle and humble way. It means living out the message of Fatima by constantly offering our prayers and sacrifices for world peace, the conversion of sinners, and for the salvation of souls—as we do at our monthly Masses of Reparation. It means holding onto a friendly and hope-filled spirit, even in difficult times, so that others may be attracted by it and brought to Jesus by our example.
If we try to do these things, we may make a difference—but we shouldn’t be under any illusions. We’ll have our share of failure and rejection; after all, this was the experience of St. John the Baptist, St. Paul, and even Jesus Himself. However, as Mother Teresa of Calcutta used to say, God calls us not to be successful, but to be faithful. Moreover, if our efforts lead to only one other person hearing and accepting the Gospel, that fact will be for us a source of consolation and joy and delight for all eternity. Jesus is the Lamb of God Who takes our sins away, and if we’re truly grateful for this gift, we’ll want to share this experience with others whenever we can.