Fr. Roger J. Landry
Church of Our Savior, Manhattan
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
January 15, 2017
Is 49:3.5-6, Ps 40, 1 Cor 1:1-3, Jn 1:29-34
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following text guided today’s homily:
The Baptist’s Remarkable Description
On Monday, the Church celebrated the Feast of the Lord’s baptism, in which with the help of St. Matthew, we pondered the objective details of the baptism of Jesus that began his public ministry: John the Baptist’s protest that he wasn’t worthy to baptize the Lord; Jesus’ insisting that it had to occur to fulfill all righteousness; the Holy Spirit’s coming down on Jesus visibly like a dove; and God the Father’s voice thundering from heaven, “This is my Son, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” Today we revisit the same scene, but look at it from the perspective, more or less, of St. John the Baptist, whom St. John the Evangelist seemed to be following up until that point. And we see something surprising if not shocking: the Baptist says that that the whole reason for his mission, the point of his life, the purpose for which he was baptizing with water at the Jordan, was so that he would be able to point out the one who was coming after him who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. And when that long-awaited person came, the Baptist didn’t cry out, “Behold the Lord!,” “Behold the Messiah!,” “Look! The Son of God!,” “Here is the Savior, the King of Jews and King of Kings, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Light of the World, the Resurrection and the Life,” — or any of the other fitting titles that would have filled his listeners with awe at the incredible majesty of the One whose sandal strap John was saying he wasn’t worthy to untie. Instead he used an expression that was not majestic at all: “Behold the Lamb of God!”
We have grown so accustomed to the phrase “Lamb of God” — which we use in the Gloria, sing three times in the Agnus Dei, and hear the priest say when, echoing the very words of John the Baptist, he holds Jesus in his elevated hands as tells us to behold him — that many of us no longer sense what the Jews would have felt when the Baptist referred to Jesus in this way. Imagine, however, that right now someone was walking late for Mass down the nave of this Church today and I said, “Look! There is the pigeon of heaven! Or behold the squirrel of the Almighty! Or welcome the chihuahua of God!” Your reaction would be something similar to the first reaction of many Jews to Jesus when they heard the term lamb. Lambs aren’t high on our list of beloved and admired animals. They’re not noted for their strength, or looks. They’re not impressive like elephants or tigers, stallions, bears or eagles. Yet John the Baptist said the whole reason he was alive was to point the Messiah out using that very expression. Why? What does it mean? Why does God call us to relate to Jesus in that way? How is it supposed to influence our faith and day-to-day life?
The Meaning of Lamb of God
For a Jew, even though a lamb was not a particularly impressive animal, it did have a very important purpose in Jewish life. More than any other animal, it was the one traditionally chosen to sacrifice to God. And Jesus absolutely identified with this means of oblation and expiation. He identified with the lamb sacrificed by Abel that was pleasing to God; with the lamb that God provided for Abraham’s sacrifice so that Isaac his son wouldn’t die; with the lambs whose blood was placed on the lintels of the Jews during the Passover; with the lambs that were offered each day to God in the Temple — as many as 256,000 in a year, according to Jewish historian Josephus — in atonement for sins. Jesus assimilated in himself the identity and sacrificial purpose of the Lamb in Jewish mentality to become precisely the acceptable sacrifice offered to the Lord to take away the sins not just of the Jews but of the whole world. He became the Suffering Servant Isaiah prophesied in today’s first reading, and “like a lamb” he would submit to be “led to the slaughter” (Is 53:7). Beholding Jesus as the Lamb of God, the Jews were being invited to see something far greater at work than just a recently-arrived arpenter from Nazareth, but the fulfillment of all the sacrifices of the Old Covenant, the realization of the much-prophesied work of the long-awaited One. They were being challenged to see in Jesus something far greater than met the eye. And through the Baptist’s words and work, they were being called by God to relate to Jesus under this title, to see him as the great scapegoat who had come to save them from the sins that would self-alienate them from God forever.
It is absolutely key for us, if we’re going to relate to Jesus as he truly is, to relate to him as the Lamb of God. And relating to him as the Lamb is not meant to provisional. When we’re given a snapshot of heaven, it’s clear that those in eternity relate to Jesus in this way. In the Book of Revelation, when St. John sees in a vision the drama of salvation history and has a glimpse of the celestial liturgy, we see that before the throne of God the Father there is a “Lamb standing, as thought it had been slain,” and before whom those in heaven were falling down down singing, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” and “to the Lamb bee blessing and honor, glory and power forever and ever!” (Rev 5:6, 12-13).
Five Practical Ways to Relate to Jesus as Lamb
What should be the practical consequences of relating to Jesus as the Lamb?
First, it should influence the way we pray. Traditionally the Church has taught that there are five different “forms” of prayer: praise, thanksgiving, sorrow, intercession for others and petition for what we need. Our prayer of praise to Jesus is meant to relate to him as Lamb as we seek to bless and adore him as Revelation shows us those in heaven do by this vocative. Our prayer of Thanksgiving is meant to be directed to him by this title for loving us so much that he would be slain for us. Our prayer of contrition to Jesus is meant to call upon him as the Lamb who mercifully takes away our and others’ sins. Our prayer of intercession and petition is meant to relate to him as this title, because this is the way he goes before the Father’s throne interceding for us.
Second, relating to Jesus as Lamb must change the way we relate to the Sacraments of Baptism and Confession, which he instituted to take away our sins that we have committed prior and post baptism. To call him, “Lamb,” means to seek to live by the promises of our baptism and to reject Satan, all his evil works and empty promises. When we fail, then we’re called humbly to come to the Lamb working through his priests in the Confessional so that he can take away the sins for which he paid such a precious price. Many Catholics sadly do not behold the Lamb in this way nearly enough, they do not come to look him in the merciful face, and cling on to their sins. Pope Francis continues to call us, after the Jubilee of Mercy, never to tire of asking for the mercy God never tires to give.
Third, relating to Jesus as Lamb must impact the way we approach the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Jesus, as you know, instituted the celebration of the Eucharist within the Jewish Passover rite, substituting his body as the Lamb and his blood as the drink for the Passover meal. So that we would not be grossed out, Jesus has us consume his flesh and blood under the appearances of bread and wine that he totally and miraculously changes into himself, but just like the ancient Jews needed to eat the lamb in order to enter fully into the first Covenant, so we have to eat the Lamb to enter fully into the new and eternal Covenant. Jesus said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” This is the Sacrament by which Jesus gives us life and blessed are all those called to this supper of the Lamb!
Fourth, relating to Jesus as Lamb means announcing him as Lamb, to become, like St. John the Baptist, precursors pointing Jesus out to our family members, friends and contemporaries. Sometimes Catholics sadly never announce Jesus at all, or when they do, they proclaim a faint, weak, uninspiring facsimile of the real thing, what I call “Jesus-the-indulgent-cuddly-Teddy-Bear” who has come to confirm, bless and console us in our sins and sinfulness rather than help us, by his grace and mercy, convert to him and with him conquer. One of the reasons why so many have given up the practice of the faith and others aren’t responding to Gospel as people in every generation have is because many don’t have a compelling image of Jesus. They can come to think of him as a laid-back long-haired bohemian who has come to smoke weed with us rather than tell us to change, someone who would never dare to judge us rather than come as a merciful judge and get us to make peace before in justice he has to give us what our deeds deserve. In short, many don’t believe they really need Jesus more than they need oxygen, that they’re sinners desperate for a Savior. This is one of the great triumphs of the devil in the modern world. That’s why in every generation, especially ours, we need to point out Jesus as the Lamb. People’s eternal salvation depends on relating to Jesus in this way!
Lastly, relating to Jesus as Lamb means that we develop a sensitivity to all those who, like the Suffering Servant, are led to the slaughter, are suffering, are hurting, or are in particular need. During his public ministry, the Lamb of God announced that he was also the Good Shepherd, who gathers the lambs in his arms, who protects them from the wolves, who goes out after anyone who is lost to take them back to the fold. When he asked St. Peter after the resurrection three times whether he loved him, and Peter thrice said he did, Jesus instructed him, “Feed my sheep. Feed my Lambs. Tend my sheep.” Our love for God is shown in our love for all those for whom the Lamb of God gave his life. And so to relate to the Lamb of God means to care for everyone made in his image, especially those whose lives are most threatened, those at the beginning of life in the womb, those at the end of life our throwaway culture wants to abandon and euthanize, all those in the middle of life who are poor, hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, imprisoned, strangers or immigrants. Beholding the Lamb is meant to make us more capable of beholding him as he suffers in the members of his body.
Winning the Battle
The end of the Book of Revelation, which features the Lamb sitting on the throne, describes how many will “make war on the Lamb.” There is a real battle, with eternal stakes, in which the enemy is seeking to have us not relate to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, not to pray to him, not to confess, not to receive him worthily, not to proclaim him, not to recognize and defend him in others. But Revelation tells us, “The Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings.” It also points out that the ones who will be with him for eternity are those who are “called and chosen and faithful.” God has called and has chosen us, just as much as he chose John the Baptist. May we respond to his help in prayer, confession, the Mass, evangelization and charity, to remain faithful and contagiously help others to do the same.
“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” Let us ask the Lord to help us to do more than to “notice” Jesus today, but to behold him looking at us with love, summoning us to give him full permission to do in us what he came into the world to accomplish, so that here on earth and forever in heaven we might be among those who behold him forever singing “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and praise … forever and ever! Amen!”
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 IS 49:3, 5-6
The LORD said to me: You are my servant,
Israel, through whom I show my glory.
Now the LORD has spoken
who formed me as his servant from the womb,
that Jacob may be brought back to him
and Israel gathered to him;
and I am made glorious in the sight of the LORD,
and my God is now my strength!
It is too little, the LORD says, for you to be my servant,
to raise up the tribes of Jacob,
and restore the survivors of Israel;
I will make you a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
Responsorial Psalm PS 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10
R. (8a and 9a) Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.
I have waited, waited for the LORD,
and he stooped toward me and heard my cry.
And he put a new song into my mouth,
a hymn to our God.
R. Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.
Sacrifice or offering you wished not,
but ears open to obedience you gave me.
Holocausts or sin-offerings you sought not;
then said I, “Behold I come.”
R. Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.
“In the written scroll it is prescribed for me,
to do your will, O my God, is my delight,
and your law is within my heart!”
R. Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.
I announced your justice in the vast assembly;
I did not restrain my lips, as you, O LORD, know.
R. Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.
Reading 2 1 COR 1:1-3
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
and Sosthenes our brother,
to the church of God that is in Corinth,
to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy,
with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Alleluia JN 1:14A, 12A
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us.
To those who accepted him,
he gave power to become children of God.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel JN 1:29-34
John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
He is the one of whom I said,
‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me
because he existed before me.’
I did not know him,
but the reason why I came baptizing with water
was that he might be made known to Israel.”
John testified further, saying,
“I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven
and remain upon him.
I did not know him,
but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me,
‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain,
he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’
Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”