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The Lamb of God

January 19, 2014

Passover-Lamb-PCOG-iStock

A reflection for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A. The readings are Isaiah 49:3, 5-6; Psalm 40; 1 Corinthians 1:1-3 and John 1:29-34.

Who do you think of when you think of Jesus? What image comes to mind? For me it’s Ted Neeley from Jesus Christ Superstar. Is it Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in the Passion of the Christ? What is your image of Jesus? Is he a tree-huggin’, sandal-wearin’, peace-lovin’, granola-eatin’, kumbaya singin’ hippie or is he a king sitting on a throne? Is he a warrior or is he a Santa Claus figure who gives us gifts if we’re good? When you think of Jesus, do you think of a lion or do you think of a lamb? Because in today’s Gospel, John the Baptist sees Jesus and he says, “Behold the Lamb of God…” And we sing it at every Mass, “Lamb of God you take away the sins of the world…” and it’s in the Gloria, “Lord, God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father”. We hear it at every Mass, “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world…” but we don’t really think of Jesus as a lamb, do we? Jesus is a shepherd, but, a lamb? God as a sheep? Really? God is not a sheep. Sheep are dumb (and I mean, they are not very intelligent animals). And lambs are defenceless. If you had to choose between being a lion or a lamb, which would you choose? I would choose a lion. No one messes with a lion.
But for the Jewish people at the time of John the Baptist, the term “lamb” meant something very specific. Lambs were the animal of sacrifice. Lamb meant offering and sacrifice. And the Jewish people knew all about offering sacrifice. Since the beginning of time, since Cain and Abel, human beings have been worshiping God by offering sacrifice. Worship and sacrifice go hand in hand (in fact, Mahatma Gandhi, who was not a Jew or a Christian said that to worship without sacrifice made no sense – that’s something to think about). And the Jewish people had very complicated and extensive laws regarding sacrifice: You offered sacrifice as a way of giving back to God; you offered sacrifice as thanksgiving; you also offered sacrifice as a way of sealing an oath or contract; and of course, you offered sacrifice as atonement for sins. The logic was that if I sin, I deserve death; so I offer an animal instead; I kill the animal to take my place. That’s where the term “scapegoat” comes from. The goat literally takes my place and dies for my sin. So the sacrifice takes away our sins. Once there was a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, these sacrifices took place in the Temple and the Priests would offer the sacrifice. (This is why the temple court was like a marketplace with merchants selling the animals for sacrifice.)

But the prime sacrifice that the Jewish people offered was the Passover sacrifice, the passover lamb.

Remember that when the Israelites were in Egypt, God told Moses that every family had to kill a one-year old, unblemished, male lamb (Exodus 12:5). They were to sprinkle the blood of the lamb on the doorpost of the house (Exodus 12:7). The Angel of Death would then “pass over” the homes that had the blood of the lamb on the doorpost, sparing their first-born sons (Exodus 12:12-13). All the first-born sons of the families that didn’t have the blood of the lamb sprinkled on their doorposts, died that night. For the last 5000 years, every Jewish family eats lamb as their Passover meal, remembering how God, not just rescued them from slavery, but also spared all their first-born sons. And during the times of Jesus, the sacrifice of the lambs was a big deal. People would go to Jerusalem, to the Temple for the Passover. You would have 2 and a half million Jews arriving in Jerusalem from all over and at the sixth hour (around noon), on the day of preparation for the Passover, the lambs would be slaughtered (see John 19:14). The Jewish historian Josephus writes that around the year 65 CE, about 35 years after the Resurrection, only a few years before the Temple was destroyed by the Romans, some 256,500 lambs were sacrificed. That’s a quarter of a million lambs. The Jewish people took their lamb sacrifice very seriously and they knew the meaning of “the Lamb”.

And it’s not just any lamb. It’s “the Lamb of God.” And it’s the “Lamb of God, who takes away the Sin of the world.” It’s not just my sin or your individual sins, it’s THE SIN, of the world; all of it. The Lamb of God is the Christ; the Messiah, the one who comes to take away the Sin of the world. Jesus is the Messiah and he comes to take away our sin: Jesus is God.

But John also says that he didn’t recognize him. He says, “I didn’t know him.” Of course he knew Jesus, they were related, cousins maybe. But even though he knew him, he didn’t recognize him. Imagine, John the Baptist, who is proclaiming the coming of the Messiah, doesn’t recognize him (so there’s hope for us). Perhaps it was because he was looking for a lion and instead he got a lamb. (It’s interesting that in two weeks we’ll be celebrating the Feast of the Presentation when two people, Simeon and Anna recognize immediately the messiah as a little baby.) Who are you looking for when you look for Jesus? Would you recognize Jesus if He was with you right now? Would you recognize him when he makes himself present to you?

Because that’s what this is all about: Recognizing Christ so we can follow Christ. We don’t often think of ourselves as Christians, we think of ourselves as Catholics. But I am a Christian before I am a Catholic. That’s why in Christian Churches all over the world this week, from January 18-25 we celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. We pray for unity, not just collaboration. We don’t really see a lot of unity among Christian churches here in Canada. We don’t even see a lot of collaboration; it’s like we’re not even supposed to talk about it (again, like good Canadians, faith is private and no one wants to step on someone else’s toes). I think that the first step towards achieving Christian unity is to see ourselves as Christian first. We belong to the Christian Church. That’s what St. Paul is writing to the Corinthians about in today’s second reading. There are some divisions in the Corinthian church and Paul is about to ask them if Christ has been divided (1 Corinthians 1:13). But he begins by addressing them, “the Church of God that is in Corinth.” It’s not “the Church of Corinth.” It’s the Church of Jesus Christ; Christ who sanctifies us, Christ who died for us. It’s not the Church of Paul or Peter. We’re not followers of Paul or followers of Peter. I am not in the church of Pope Francis. I am the Church of Christ that is in the Catholic church of Bradford, Ontario, in the Archdiocese of Toronto. We need to see ourselves as Christians first if we want to work towards Christian unity.

And we have to, because Christ is what this is all about; Recognizing him so we can follow him, the Lamb of God who takes away the Sin of the world. Next time you sing the “Lamb of God” or when the Priest raises the Eucharist and says, “this is the Lamb of God who takes away the Sin of the world,” think about what that means. Let’s ask God to help us always recognize Christ when he makes himself present to us. Christ who comes, not as a lion – not in the storm or the strong wind; he comes in the silence. He comes as an innocent and defenseless lamb. He comes as a piece of bread; the bread of life, as a little baby. May we recognize him when he makes himself present to us so that we can follow him – with the words of the Psalm “Here I am Lord”, that we can be a light to the nations, like Isaiah tells us in the first reading, but not as the powerful, but also as lambs.

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From → English, Reflections

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