We begin the Sundays in Ordinary Time with this account from the Gospel of John of the occasion when John the Baptist points out Jesus and identifies him as the Lamb of God. The first thing we should realise is that according to the Law of Moses a lamb was sacrificed each morning and evening in the Temple in expiation for the sins of the people.
Also, on the feast of Passover each family sacrificed a lamb and eat its meat in a sacrificial meal. This meal called to mind the meal the People of Israel eat on the night of the first Passover when they were rescued by God from slavery in Egypt. We can see that there is a strong connection with sin, since sin is a form of slavery and is definitely something that we need rescuing from.
So, when John the Baptist said ‘Look there is the Lamb of God’ the people would have had understood that he was making an explicit link with the hundreds of lambs sacrificed for sin in the Temple and also the many more lambs sacrificed on the night of the Passover Feast. It becomes clear then that John is pointing out that Jesus is the one who is coming to free the people from their sins.
Of course, all those lambs sacrificed in the Temple did not free the people from any actual sins. Only God can forgive sin and so it had to be God who seeing the sacrifices that were being offered exercised his mercy and forgave the people their sins. But, as we now know, all these sacrificial lambs were merely foreshadowing Jesus who is the real Lamb of God and who by his sacrifice on the Cross of Calvary would really and definitively expunge all our sins past, present and future.
It is no mistake then that the death of Jesus occurred at Passover time. Nor was it any surprise that at the moment of his death the veil of the Temple was torn in two as a sign that from then on men should turn to Christ and see him as their one true Saviour.
We begin these Sundays of Ordinary Time examining the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry but we do so with an eye on the end of the story. We see from the outset that Jesus is the Lamb of God and that his principal task is to take away the sins of the world. This is the reason he has come among us; this is his true purpose; this is something in which the whole world can rejoice.
In the text John the Baptist says twice that he did not know Jesus. We have to take this with a pinch of salt. We know from the accounts in St Luke’s Gospel that John the Baptist certainly knew Jesus, indeed that he was his cousin and only six months younger than John. So we cannot and should not take these particular words of St John literally.
According to me, what John the Baptist means is that he did not know that Jesus was the Messiah. John instantly recognises who Jesus is when he walks towards him on that glorious day. He already knew he was Jesus of Nazareth but at that particular moment he had a revelation or an inner recognition that Jesus was in fact the one who had come from God to save us from our sins.
He then does the thing that he was destined to do, the one thing that for his whole life he had been preparing, he identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God. So important is this incident that the Church explicitly refers to it every time we celebrate the Eucharist when the priest holds up the host and the chalice and says, ‘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.’
Christianity is an historical religion, we deal in real and actual historical events, real physical people situated in a particular time or place. This is not so with other religions that rely heavily on myth and allegories. The events in the Gospel reading today actually happened, On that blessed day, Jesus walked towards John who recognised him and proclaimed to the crowd just who Jesus was. This is specific, it is real, it actually happened. And Christians down through the ages return over and over again to the specific events of the life of Christ to learn more about him and also to learn how to live out the beliefs and tenets of Christianity in their own day.
This is what Paul is on about in his letters, such as the one given to us today written to the Corinthians; he wants them to come to a realisation of what is required of a Christian who is living in another place or another era than that of Christ himself.
That our religion is based on actual facts on specific occurrences and real people living in history tells us that the events of our everyday life are vitally important. Ours is not an otherworldly religion; it is not based on myths and legends. No, it is historical and factual and it is all about the real world in which we live.
As Christians we regard time itself as sacred. We are living in what we might call redeemed time, because of our salvation all time has been made holy. We commemorate this through the sacred liturgy which marks time off with its recurring feasts and seasons. The liturgy helps us to realise that the time in which we live is sacred and blessed because it is the place in which we live out our Christian lives, it is the milieu in which we work through our struggles with evil and by the frequent use of the sacraments come ever closer to God.
Moreover, what happens to us each day is part of the unfolding history of Christianity. The challenges we face, the threats to our faith and how we overcome them, all these things are part of a much wider picture which is that of the growth of the reign of Christ in the world. Like Paul we too are called to be Apostles, to be Christ’s servants in the world in which we live. Like John the Baptist it is our task too to point out to those around us just who Jesus is.
It is not sufficient that the people among who we live know that a man called Jesus lived his life two thousand years ago. No, they need to be aware that he is indeed the Lamb of God, the one true Saviour of the World. This is our task; this is the role we have been given by Christ –to make him known. And we are to convey not just that he existed but precisely who he is, that he is the Son of God, that he is our Saviour, that he loves us and wants us to live with him for all eternity in heaven.
This is indeed Good News and it deserves to be heard by every single person in the world.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket