2nd Sunday of the Year Isaiah 49:3, 5–6; 1 Corinthians 1:1–3; John 1:29–34
Lamb of God The title “Lamb of God’’ calls up images of love, sacrifice, and triumph.
In the Second Book of Samuel, the prophet Nathan tells King David this story.
Two men were citizens of the same town. The one man was rich and powerful. The other was poor and helpless. The rich man had great flocks of sheep. He had so many sheep that he lost count of them. The poor man, on the other hand, had only one tiny lamb.
But the poor man’s children loved the lamb. They played with it all day long. They even brought it to table to share the little food they had. Nathan says they even taught the lamb to drink from a cup. The lamb was like a member of the family.
One day an important visitor came to the rich man’s house. But the rich man didn’t want to kill any of his own lambs to feed his guest. So he had his servants go over to the poor man’s house, take the poor man’s lamb, and slaughter it to feed his guest.
This moving story of a rich man’s cruelty and callousness was one of the images John the Baptist had in mind when he pointed a bony finger at Jesus and said to his disciples, There is the Lamb of God. John 1:29
Nathan’s story of the poor man’s pet lamb certainly fit Jesus. Jesus, too, was deeply loved. He, too, was to be cruelly slain by evil men.
But there was another image in John’s mind when he pointed a finger at Jesus and said, There is the Lamb of God.
It was the image of the lambs that were sacrificed daily in the Temple. Concerning these daily Temple offerings, God said to Moses in the Book of Exodus:
Every day for all time to come, sacrifice on the altar two one-year-old lambs, Sacrifice one of the lambs in the morning and the other in the evening. Exodus 29:38–39
The daily sacrifices in the Temple were made year after year, even in times of great famine when food was scarce and people were starving.
When John pointed to Jesus and said, There is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, he had in mind the sacrificial lambs that were offered each morning and each night in the Temple for the sins of the people.
In effect, John was saying to his disciples, We offer lambs daily in the Temple for our sins, but the Lamb of God is the only one who can save us from those sins. Long before John the Baptist, the prophets spoke of a mysterious servant of God who would someday suffer and die, like a lamb. Describing the death of this suffering servant, Isaiah 53:7–8 says:
He was treated harshly, but endured it humbly. . . . Like a lamb about to be slaughtered. . . he never said a word. He was arrested and sentenced and led off to die. . . . He was put to death for the sins of our people.
The words of Jeremiah the prophet fit Jesus equally well. Jeremiah 11:19 says:
I was like a trusting lamb taken out to be killed, and I did not know that it was against me that they were planning evil things.
And so the title “Lamb of God” conjures up two vivid images.
The first image is that of affection and love, as we saw in Nathan’s story of the rich man and the poor man. The second image is that of suffering and sacrifice, as we saw in the cases of the sacrificial lambs of the Temple and the suffering servant of God.
But there is one final image that “Lamb of God” conjures up, We find it in the Book of Revelation. The author of this book applies the title “Lamb of God” to Jesus no less than 28 times.
He keeps the notions of love and affection and of suffering and sacrifice, but adds the further notions of glory and triumph. A good example of this is chapter five, where the author describes his vision of a lamb on a throne. The lamb is surrounded by people, who are singing and praising the lamb with this song:
You were killed, and by your sacrificial death you bought for God people from every tribe, language, nation, and race. You have made them a kingdom of priests to serve our God. Revelation 5:9–10
Then the people around the throne are joined by angels. The author of the Book of Revelation says:
Again I looked, and I heard angels, thousands and millions of them! They stood around the throne . . . and sang in a loud voice:
“The Lamb who was killed is worthy to receive . . . honor, glory, and praise!” . . . “To him . . . be praise and honor, glory and might, forever and ever!” Revelation 5:11–13
And all the people around the throne shout, Amen!
In brief, the title “Lamb of God” conjures up three vivid images: one of affection and love for the lamb, one of suffering and sacrifice by the lamb, and one of glory and praise to the lamb.
It comes as no surprise that of the many titles of Jesus “Light of the World,” “Good Shepherd,” and “Bread of Life” the title “Lamb of God” is the one we use each time we celebrate Mass. Just before Communion, we join the choir in singing the Lamb of God. That very special moment at Mass is a preview of the moment at the end of time when people of all nations will join all the angels of heaven to sing this song to Jesus, the eternal Lamb of God:
You were killed, and by your sacrificial death you bought for God people from every tribe, language, nation, and race. You have made them a kingdom of priests to serve our God. . . .
The Lamb who was killed is worthy to receive . . . honor, glory, and praise! . . .
To him . . . be praise and honor, glory and might, forever and ever! . . .
Series II 2nd Sunday of the Year Isaiah 49:3, 5–6; 1 Corinthians 1:1–3; John 1:29–34
He takes away our sins Unless we recognize ourselves as sinners, we will never recognize Jesus as our savior.
In May 1988 the Associated Press released an alarming story. It concerned a survey of 1,700 junior high school students by a Rhode Island Rape Crisis Center. Of all the students interviewed, 65 percent of the boys and 50 percent of the girls considered it acceptable for a man to force a woman to have relations with him if they had been dating for six months.
Another survey in 1988 showed that one-third of all pregnancies in the United States end up with the unborn fetus being destroyed. That comes to 1.5 million deaths a year, or one every 23 seconds.
Consider two final surveys.
A university study shows that by the age of ten, the average child has already developed “a noncondemning attitude” toward cheating. And lastly, a Chicago newspaper survey, backed up by lie detector tests, showed that seven out of ten employees steal at least some small item from their employers, jokingly referring to it as a “fringe benefit.”
When you read news items like these, you feel like the person who said, “Stop the world. I want to get off!”
You also feel like the person who said, “If I were God, my heart would break because of all the cruelty and sinfulness in our world.”
But even more disturbing than the cold-blooded sinfulness in our world is the growing tendency to joke about sin, to downplay it, or to deny it.
For example, people today no longer lie; they merely juggle the facts or stretch the truth. People no longer steal; they rip off, lift, or “borrow.” People no longer commit adultery; they fool around or live in the fast lane. People no longer cheat; they pad expenses or fudge figures. Finally, people no longer kill unborn children; they terminate a pregnancy or remove an unwanted fetus. All of this is simply a way of downplaying or denying sin.
The tragic part of this disturbing tendency is that by downplaying or denying our sinfulness, we downplay or deny our need for Jesus Christ. For if we have no sins that need forgiving, we have no need for Jesus Christ. Touching on this point, author Kilian McDonnell notes that many conservative, evangelical preachers touch millions of people today, not simply because they are forceful speakers, but because they show people that they are sinners and, therefore, that they need the forgiveness of Christ. He says:
Many people do not recognize Christ because they do not recognize themselves as sinners. If I am not a sinner, then I have no need of Christ. No man will celebrate the mystery of Christ in joy if he does not first recognize in sorrow that he is a sinner who needs a savior.
The focus . . . is not sin . . . but on Christ who saves. Commonweal magazine (August 1, 1970)
This is also the focus of John the Baptist in today’s gospel. John’s focus is on Jesus, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
The worst evil is not to commit sin. It’s to commit sin and then to deny it. Commenting on this point, a theologian said:
It is better to commit a sin than to corrupt a principle. It is better to sin with sincerity than to lie to oneself in order to stay virtuous. Louis Evely
In other words, if we are weak enough to sin, we should be humble enough to admit the fact. Stressing the fact of human sinfulness, the First Letter of John says bluntly:
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us. . . . If we say that we have not sinned, we make a liar out of God, and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:8, 10 The point in all this is clear.
All of us are fragile human beings. All of us fall victim to various sins at various times in our lives. All of us stand in need of Christ’s forgiveness. All of us stand in need of Christ’s salvation.
Instead of downplaying our sinfulness, or denying it, we should admit it. We should admit it and seek out Jesus, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
This is the message of John the Baptist to the people of his time in today’s reading. It is also the message of the Church to each one of us here today.
Concretely, this means we should admit our sinfulness. We should admit it and seek God’s forgiveness in the sacrament of Reconciliation. It means we should use the sacrament of Reconciliation as Jesus intended us to use it.
How fortunate for us to have this sacrament. How unfortunate for us to neglect it. How unfortunate for us not to use it as Jesus intended us to use it.
To illustrate what we mean, consider these words of the great novelist Somerset Maugham. He writes:
I have committed follies. I have a sensitive conscience and I have done certain things in my life that I am unable to entirely forget: if I had been fortunate enough to be a Catholic, I could have delivered myself of them at confession and after performing the penance imposed, received absolution and put them out of my mind forever.
It takes a statement like Maugham’s to make us Catholics realize what a great gift the sacrament of Reconciliation is.
How tragic for us to fail to appreciate it or to fail to use it. For it was for this gift that Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, offered himself for us on Calvary.
Let’s close by paraphrasing a prayer written nearly 1,600 years ago by an early Christian named Origen. Pray along with me in silence:
Jesus, my feet are dusty and dirty. Pour water into your basin and come and wash my feet, as you washed the feet of the Apostles at the Last Supper.
I realize that I am terribly bold in asking you to do this. But I fear the warning you gave to Peter when you said to him, ‘If I do not wash your feet, you cannot have companionship with me.’
Wash my feet, then, Jesus, because I do want your companionship more than anything else in this world.
Series III 2nd Sunday of the Year Isaiah 49:3, 5–6; 1 Corinthians 1:1–3; John 1:29–34
Lamb of God We are saved by the blood of the Lamb. John saw Jesus coming and said, “There is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” John 1:29
In one of his books, Charles Swindoll describes God’s reason for sending Jesus into the world this way:
If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator. If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist.
If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist. If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer.
But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a savior. The Grace Awakening
I like this passage because it focuses on something we need to remind ourselves of from time to time. And that is that we are all sinners and need God’s forgiveness and salvation.
Commenting on the importance of this focus, author Kilian McDonnell says:
Many evangelical preachers are able to touch people’s hearts and lead them to Jesus not because they’re great preachers.
Rather, it’s because they focus on the fact that all of us are, indeed, sinners who do need forgiveness and salvation.
Commenting on our need to admit this unpopular fact, the Bible says:
If we say we have not sinned, we make a liar out of God, and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:10
McDonnell then goes on to make a second point that is equally important. He says:
Many people do not recognize Christ because they do not recognize themselves as sinners. If I am not a sinner, then I have no need for Christ.
No one will celebrate the mystery of Christ in joy if they do not first recognize in sorrow that they are sinners who need a savior. Commonweal magazine (slightly adapted)
An observation is in order here. McDonnell’s focus is not on sin, but on Jesus, who saves us from sin.
This is so important, let us say it again. McDonnell’s focus is not on sin, but on Jesus, who saves us from sin.
And this is the way it should be.
Recall that when the angel appeared to Joseph and told him that Mary would bear a child by the Holy Spirit, the angel added:
“You will name the child Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20–21
The focus of the angel’s message was not on people’s sins, but on Jesus, who saves people from their sins. There is an enormous difference between focusing on sin and focusing on Jesus. Focusing on sin leads to fear, despair, and death. Focusing on Jesus, who saves us from sin, leads to forgiveness, hope, and life.
Let us illustrate the difference this focus can make.
One night the disciples got caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee.
At the height of the storm, Jesus suddenly appeared walking across the water toward them. They panicked, thinking it was a ghost. But Jesus said, “It is I. Don’t be afraid!”
Then Peter spoke up, “Lord if it is really you, order me to come across the water to you.”
“Come!” answered Jesus. So Peter got out of the boat and started walking on the water to Jesus. Matthew 14:28–29
Then Peter made a fatal mistake. He took his focus off Jesus and shifted it to the wind and the waves. And that shift in focus was Peter’s undoing. He nearly drowned.
This brings us to today’s Gospel. Its focus, too, is not on our sin, but on Jesus, who saves us from sin. It reads:
The next day John saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “There is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
It is significant that of all the titles that the Bible gives to Jesus “Good Shepherd,”“Bread of Life,” and “Light of the World” the very first one given to him is the one in John’s Gospel: “Lamb of God.”
It is also significant that reference to Jesus as the“Lamb of God” appears 28 times in the final book of the Bible: the Book of Revelation. Take an example from chapter 5.
There the author, John, describes a vision of a Lamb that appeared to have been killed. The Lamb is surrounded by millions of people, who are singing these words:
“You were killed and by your sacrificial death you bought for God people from every tribe, nation and race. You have made them a kingdom of priests to serve our God.” Revelation 5:9–10
Small wonder that of all the titles that Scripture gives to Jesus, the one that the Church has chosen to recall in every Mass is the title “Lamb of God.” We repeat it three times in preparation for Holy Communion:
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world: have mercy on us.
This special moment at Mass previews that awesome moment when the world will end, and we will stand in judgment before Jesus.
At that moment, we may find ourselves repeating over and over again, “Lamb of God, have mercy on us.” Let us close with a story that suggests the response we should make to Jesus for what he has done for us. A man dove into a raging river and saved a drowning young person. A few days later, after recovering from the shock, the young person visited the man and said, “How can I ever thank you for what you did for me?”
The man looked at the youth and said, “The best thanks you can give me is to live the rest of your life in a way that will have made it worth saving.”
And that is also the best way that we can thank Jesus, the Lamb of God, for what he has done for us.