Readings: Is 49:3,5-6; 1 Cor 1:1-3; Jn 1:29-34
Servant of the Lord, Lamb of God and wounded for our sins, are some of the phrases that help us to capture the central point of the readings of this Sunday. The Nativity scene is gone, the lights are down and the Christmas season is over. Last Sunday, the readings focused on Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist, anointed and commissioned and sent by the Father on His mission. This Sunday, we are the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. In both the first reading and the psalm, Jesus is seen as the “Servant of the Lord” who comes to do God’s will. In the Gospel, John the Baptist points out Jesus to his disciples, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God.” What does that phrase mesn? The story is told of a German artist who, centuries ago, was working on a Catholic Church roof in Werden, Germany (in Essen). Suddenly, his safety belt snapped and he fell. The area below was filled with large rocks. As fate would have it, a lamb chose that moment to have its lunch of grass between the rocks. How it happened, no body knows, but the artist miraculously fell on the lamb, that died at once, but the artist survived. When he recovered from shock and some bruises, he sculptured a lamb and placed it on the church roof in gratitude. That lamb still stands there to this day. This story helps us to understand the Gospel reading of today, that speaks about another Lamb. What exactly did John have in mind when he said “Behold the Lamb of God”? When John the Baptist describes Jesus as “the Lamb of God”, he draws that phrase from an Old Testament tradition of the “lamb of God” symbolism. The blood of the paschal lamb of the Old Testament protects and saves the Israelites in Exodus 12. This link is made explicit in 1 Cor 5:7. For Paul, Christians are saved by Christ as their true Paschal Lamb of God. Therefore John the Baptist in the Gospel draws our attention to the identity of Jesus and all he would have to undergo in order to save us. The Prophet Isaiah prophesied graphically the fate of the “Suffering Servant” of the Lord. He was pierced for our offences; Crushed for our sins; Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole; By his stripes we were healed. The Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all. He was harshly treated; He submitted and never opened his mouth; Like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers; He was silent and opened not his mouth. He was wounded for our sins, bruised for our iniquities. (Isaiah 53:2-3).
That prophesy of Isaiah was fulfilled in Jesus in his passion and death prophesied in the symbols of bread and wine at the Last Supper. At that event, Jesus took the Jewish Passover ritual sacrifice and applied it on himself as he shared the Passover meal with his disciples. They ate the ritual Passover lamb that night, but then Jesus gave the whole event a new meaning by taking bread, blessing, giving thanks and giving it to the disciples, and similarly the wine. As he gave them to his disciples, Jesus said: “This is my body…This cup is… my blood” (1 Cor. 11:23-25). The symbolism of the lamb, the bread and the wine was later adopted by the church as part of the order for the Eucharist. Further examination of title “Lamb of God” for Christ, leads us to the Book of Revelation, where the victorious apocalyptic lamb would destroy evil in the world (Revelation chapters 5-7 and chapter 17:14). Therefore, when we use the phrase “Lamb of God” at Mass, we reflect on the mystery of Eucharistic Sacrifice of Christ’s death and resurrection for our salvation. The message of this Sunday could be summed up in three points. 1) The story of the German artist reminds us that we have a far greater obligation to offer thanksgiving to Jesus Christ, who “was wounded for our sins, bruised for our iniquities and died to save us.” 2) The readings invite us to share our faith with others, especially those who may be waiting for someone to lead them to Christ. 3) Just as John’s witness was so convincing that two of his disciples followed Jesus, we too are called to give such convincing witness, that leads people to Jesus Christ.
©2014 John S. Mbinda