Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) | Fr Thomas Skeats considers the implications of Jesus being called 'Lamb of God'.
John the Baptist has been described as the parting voice of the Old Testament and it is to the Old Testament that we must look to begin to understand his description of Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The lamb occupies an important place in the story of the people of Israel. In the first few pages of their sacred text we encounter Abel, son of Adam and Eve, offering a lamb in sacrifice to the Lord. An atonement sacrifice of lambs would become part of the daily ritual of the Temple in Jerusalem. When God asks Abraham to go to one of the mountains in the land of Moriah – perhaps the mount on which the Temple would later be built – and offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering, the unsuspecting Isaac asks his father ‘where is the lamb?’ Abraham’s responds ‘God will provide’ – words which only become at the close of the Old Testament when John the Baptist points to Christ and says ‘Here is the Lamb of God’. The prophet Isaiah speaks of a suffering servant of God, a man who would be despised and rejected by men and wounded for the transgressions of the people. He compares this suffering servant to a lamb that is led to the slaughter. From the very beginning of his life, Jesus is on a trajectory that will lead to the sacrifice of the Cross.
Jesus would be crucified on the feast of the Passover. This feast recalled the Exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt. At the moment of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt lambs had been slaughtered and eaten. The blood of those lambs had been painted on the houses of the Hebrews so that when the Lord ‘passed over’ the land of Egypt those within were kept safe from the plague that was to be unleashed. The yearly remembrance of Passover, which inaugurated the journey of God’s people towards the Promised Land, still involved in Jesus's day the slaughtering of lambs in the Temple. John the Baptist was the son of a priest, Zechariah, who would have participated in the daily Temple sacrifice. The blood of the Passover Lamb delivered the Israelites in Egypt from death in Egypt. When John describes Jesus as the Lamb of God he pointed to the definitive sacrifice that would deliver humanity from everlasting death. So Jesus is the fulfilment of the Old Testament story. The golden thread that had run through that story was God’s covenant relationship with his chosen people which began when God had said 'I will be your God and you will be my people’. Everything recounted in the Old Testament records the fortunes of that covenant-relationship and, more importantly, looks forward to its consummation in the advent of the Messiah, the Christ.
What also becomes clear in the story is that this Jewish Messiah, this servant of the chosen people, would be a Saviour not just for the people of Israel, but for all people. He would take away the sins of the world. Until he came, the task of the chosen people of the Old Testament, as Isaiah insists in our first reading, was to act as a light to the nations. And this task of being a light to the nations is one that we must continue. We have just emerged from Christmastide with its great celebrations of the Nativity, the Epiphany, and the Baptism of the Lord. We have seen Jesus revealed to his own people - Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, Simeon, Anna. We have seen Jesus revealed to the Gentiles, represented by the Magi. We, who through the gift of faith, recognise Jesus as the Son God who takes away the sins of the world have the ongoing mission, like John the Baptist, of pointing out Jesus to the world. Strengthened by the grace given to us in the Eucharist, the sacrament which makes present the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, we must go out as signs and instruments of the love, mercy, and forgiveness that Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, offers to all peoples of the world.
Isaiah 49:3. 5-6. | 1 Cor 1:1-3. | John 1:29-34