A Reflection by Fr. Peter for the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.
Isaiah 49:3, 5-6 – Corinthians 1:1-3 – John 1:29-34.
According to the Gospel (John 1:29-34), when John the Baptist saw Jesus coming towards him, he identified Jesus as ‘The Lamb of God’. John declared: Look, there is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. Let’s explore what he meant when he described Jesus as ‘the Lamb’. The description would have been understood by every Jew present. Lambs were a vital element in Jewish religious practices outlined in the Torah and the Jewish books that Christians know as the Old Testament. In the lead-up to the time of Jesus, the life-blood offering of animals (and especially of unblemished lambs) took place in the Temple in Jerusalem, which was the place of ritual sacrifice in Jewish worship of the One God. From this Jewish religious practice, we get the expression ‘the sacrificial lamb’.
In Judaism, lambs were sacrificed in two major religious rituals. The first of these was in the historical commemoration of the event of the Passover. The second was in the practice of sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem every morning and evening. The Lamb was used not only as a sacrificial offering, but also for ritual cleansing and sanctification. In declaring to the world that Jesus is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, John flagged up a specific message to his contemporaries and to us.
The Passover continues to be celebrated by Jews today. The earliest book of the Bible records (cf. Exodus 12:11-13) that the Passover Lamb was slain, and its blood was sprinkled and smeared on the doors and lintels of the houses of the Israelites. The blood identified the Chosen People of God and delivered them from destruction. In pointing out Jesus as ‘the Lamb’, John prophesied that by Jesus’ precious blood, His chosen people would be identified, delivered from death and saved. The longing of the Jewish people for purification from their sins in order to be reconciled with the perfection of God – perfection that cannot tolerate imperfection – culminated in the practice of sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem every morning and evening. The intention of the ritual sacrifice was to plead for the remission of the sins of the people of God, and to plead for the sanctification of the priests and the place of worship (cf. Exodus 29:38-42). The daily Temple sacrifice assured the Jewish people throughout the known world of God’s presence among them. From here, we deduce seamlessly that John’s pointing out of Jesus as the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world indicated that He (Jesus) would be sacrificed daily, both for the remission of the sins of His people in His Kingdom, and also for the sanctification of His priests and the universal Church. Jesus is that perfect sacrifice. He is the One who even today sanctifies His Church and cleanses us of all venial sins whenever we partake of his Eucharistic Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the unbloody sacrifice of the Mass.
Granted that the idea of animal sacrifice may be repulsive to our generation, it might be helpful for us to think instead of the notion of ‘bail’ or of ‘restitution’ when considering what Christ stands for as the sacrificial Lamb. A guilty criminal may be remanded in custody before he is sentenced. The law may set bail too high for him to afford, and so he has to stay in gaol. He cannot pay enough to liberate himself from prison. To achieve freedom, he requires the help of another person to pay his bail. Similarly, as prisoners of our sins (our personal deliberate wrongdoing, our imperfections), we require the help of someone else to bail us out. That someone else is Jesus the Christ. He is the Lamb of God. With the sacrifice of His life He made the perfect restitution for each one of us. He bails us out. He puts our sins behind His back whenever we go to Confession.
Every Christian, then, is called to be a lamb; to be a powerful figure that serves to protect the interests of every single human being, born or unborn, especially in a world riddled with discrimination and intimidation of every sort. Why? Because we all share the same Lord. Jesus is the Lord of all the saints everywhere, as St. Paul writes in the 2nd Reading (1Cor 1:1-3). In striving to be lambs for the world, we gain the graces of innocence and meekness, and are armed with no more than the spirit of service and humility. We are the servants of the Lord, called and appointed by Him. As the Psalmist says, we have come to do His will (Ps 39:9). It is in this light that the 1st Reading (Is 49:3, 5-6) addresses the chosen people of God as servants, who have been called to restore the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the survivors of Israel. You too are among the chosen people of God. Let’s strive, then, to fulfil our mission: to restore/uplift and to bring back / preserve. Today and always, do not fail to ask the Lord for His guidance as we labour in our calling. God bless you.