Sunday, 15 January 2012
2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury
For those of you using your "rustle-ette" sheets during the reading of the gospel, you will have noticed that the translation that Deacon Michael just read to us was not the translation on your sheet -it was the RSV translation, which is another of the approved translations for use at Mass, though not as frequently used. I chose to have us use it today because it very directly parallels the new translation the Mass. (The translation of the Bible that we use in our lectionary is supposedly the next task the translators are working on, and maybe in a decade, maybe sometime before I’ve died, that too will change -but not soon.)
The verse I want to draw your attention to is the phrase, "Behold, the Lamb of God!"(Jn 1:35). This verse has John the Baptist repeating what he had said in a longer form the day before, when he baptised Jesus, and declared, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”(Jn 1:29).
Now, why is this significant?
These words are the words that John the Baptist chose to use to identify WHO the Lord Jesus was and is. John the Baptist was the one who had the task to "prepare the way"(Mk1:2, c.f. Jn 1:23) for the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. And when, while John was performing his public baptising ministry, and saw Jesus publicly approaching him for all the people to see, the words he chose to describe Jesus are obviously words that must have been important. The most obvious thing we might have EXPECTED him to say was, "Behold, the long-awaited Messiah”.
However, John the Baptist did NOT say that. Instead, he gave Jesus a title that the people were not expecting, a title indicating a ROLE that they were not expecting. Most of them were expecting a Messiah who would be a military leader to free them from the Romans. But John the Baptist indicated that He came to free them from something much more fundamental, He came to free them and free us from our sins.
The title "Lamb of God" would have meant something to the Jews who heard him, even though they would have been unlikely to appreciate what EXACTLY John the Baptist meant by it. THE Lamb of sacrifice they would have been familiar with would have been the Passover lamb, the lamb whose sacrifice heralded the freedom of the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt. There would have been another lamb they would have been familiar with, actually a goat, the scapegoat of Leviticus over which the priest would lay his hands and cast the sins of the people onto the goat and then cast the goat out into the wilderness so that, as the book of Leviticus says, “the goat will carry on itself all [the people’s] sins to a remote place”(Lev 16:22). And, even more likely, they would have thought of the prophecy of Isaiah that refers to One on whom the sins “of us all”(Isa 53:6) were laid while He was to be led out like a lamb to be slaughtered.
So, not a military Messiah, but One who was “the Lamb of God”, the sacrifice “who takes away the sins of the world”(Jn 1:29). THIS is who Jesus was for the Jews, and who Jesus is still for us.
All of us, whether we admit it or not, need a saviour to take away our sins.
Similarly, all of us, whether we admit it or not, need a saviour who will spiritually feed and nourish us, who will satisfy the hunger within.
The same Saviour does both. In the book of Revelation we are given the image of a huge wedding banquet, a feast to satisfy, and this is described as “the supper of the Lamb”(Rev 19:9).
This is He who comes to us in Holy Communion. This is our Eucharistic Lord. And this is what the priest declares in the Mass.
The words of John the Baptist declaring who Jesus was were words full of meaning, but only for those who could come to understand.
As we hear those words spoken in the Mass let us pray for the grace to likewise fully understand:
“Behold the Lamb of God,
behold him who takes away the sins of the world.
Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”