BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD
HOMILY FOR SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR A. Readings: Isaiah 49:3.5-6; Psalm 40; 1 Corinthians 1:1-3 and John 1:29-34.
As we have commenced our usual activites after the yuletide holidays, similarly, the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ marks the End of the Christmas season and ushers us into the ordinary season of the Church’s liturgical calendar, where we celebrate no particular aspect of the mystery of Christ, but His mystery in all aspects. In view of this, the liturgy of today presents to us the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world at the commencement of Christ’ public ministry just after his baptism.
The first reading tells us that the servant of Yahweh will be the light to the nations so that through him, the salvation of God may reach the ends of the earth. The reading begins by saying; “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified” (Is 49:3). It is an indication that this passage speaks of the suffering servant that is often identified as Israel. Israel is used not so much as a name as it is a parallel term to servant. In this reading, the word ‘Israel’ is also synonymous with ‘Jacob.’ Jacob was the name that Isaac and Rebecca gave their younger son (Gen 25:26), but Yahweh later re-named him Israel (Gen 32:28). Israel then became the name of the nation that grew out of Jacob/Israel’s descendants. However, the servant has a mission to Israel, to bring the nation Israel, the people of God, back to God, and so it says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servants to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (v.6). Thus, salvation will no longer be limited to the sons of Israel alone, but the whole nations, including the Gentiles.
The gospel made allusion to the prophecy of Isaiah about the suffering servant, the servant of Yahweh, in the person of Christ. The Prologue of John says that “John was the light, but was sent that he might testify about the light” (1:8). When confronted by the priests and Levites, John cries out, “I am not the Christ” (1:20). He further declares that he is not Elijah, but is “The voice of one crying in the wilderness” (1:23) and not worthy to untie the strap of his sandal (1:26-27). In today’s gospel, John points out saying, “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Christ was greeted by John with words declaring His destiny, His sacrificial agony and death on the cross for the sins of mankind. The shadow of the cross was cast over the entire ministry of Christ. John did not present him as a great moral example or a great teacher of holiness and love. He proclaimed Jesus Christ as the sacrifice for sin. It wasn’t “Behold the great example” or “Behold the great teacher.” It was “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” In this sentence, John the Baptist summarized the greatest work of Jesus Christ: to deal with the problem of sin afflicting the human race. Christ is the lamb destined for the salvation of all nations.
Biblically, the lamb is a symbol of innocence and sacrifice and so, John used the image of the sacrificial lamb, represented in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament we find expressions like the “lamb of sacrifice” and Christ is the perfect fulfillment of that image every time it is displayed. He is the lamb slain before the foundation of the world; he is the animal slain in the Garden of Eden to cover the nakedness of the first sinners; He is the Lamb God would himself provide for Abraham as a substitute for Isaac (Gen 22:8-13); He is the Passover Lamb, whose blood saved the Israelites from death and paved the way for their deliverance from Egypt, “when I see the blood of the lamb, I will Passover” (Exodus 12); He is the lamb from the Suffering Servant songs of Isaiah, which portrayed one who, by his sacrifice, will redeem his people. “He was oppressed, yet when he was afflicted he didn’t open his mouth. As a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before its shearers is mute, so he didn’t open his mouth” (Is 53:7) and He is the Lamb for the guilt offering in the Levitical sacrifices, offered daily to redeem the people from their sins.
The father of John the Baptist, Zachariah was a priest of the temple (Lk 1:15), so these sacrifices would be very familiar to him as each of these lambs fulfills their role in their death. All of these point to the sacrificial character of the lamb. Invariably, this announcement by John was to portray Christ as the Suffering Servant, the innocent one, the sinless one and the unblemished one that has come to die and to take away the ‘sin’ of the whole world.
The ‘sin’ here is singular, suggesting that the Lamb of God deals with the totality of sin in one sacrifice. The sacrifice of this Lamb has the capacity to forgive every sin and cleans every sinner. We find this idea reaffirmed in 1 John 2:2, which says, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.” In John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” It is on this note that St. Paul in the second reading reminds us of our call to holiness through the Corinthians who had deviated from their religious beliefs and responsibilities, as a result of flourishing and booming commercial activities; increase in trade, foreign ideologies, culture and influence of other religion. Corinth became a sinful city, but God brought salvation to it through his servant St. Paul and he reminds us that we are called to be saints together with Christ.
Invariably, we are called to a life of sacrifice, giving ourselves like the sacrificial Lamb and the burning candle for the good of others. I tell you solemnly, there is no love without sacrifice, and this is what the Lamb of God exemplifies.
Happy Sunday! Fr. Ken Dogbo, OSJ