Monday, January 20, 2014

Behold the Lamb of God

Behold the Lamb of God! This statement that we heard in Sunday's gospel from John the Baptist, which we have the danger of taking for granted, is actually the answer to a question that has sat unanswered in Jewish history for over a thousand years. It is also the beginning of all we know about the Sacraments. We'll talk about the Sacraments in a minute, but first let's look at the question that John is answering. To do so, we have to dive into Jewish context to understand what's going on here. To find this unanswered question, we have to go all the way back to the story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac.

Then, when God stops Abraham from sacrificing his son, Abraham finds a ram caught by his horns. He doesn't find a sheep, but a ram. So Isaac's question still stands: "Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?" And eventually the Jewish people build the temple and sacrifice thousands of lambs, but still, the lamb that Abraham said God himself would provide hasn't been found yet.So recall the Abraham and Isaac story. God asks Abraham to take his son up the mountain to sacrifice him. On the way up the mountain, Isaac is unaware what is going on and asks his dad "Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?" Abraham says "God himself will provide the lamb," which is a partial answer, but doesn't explain everything. It's like when you say to your kids, "I'll tell you when you're older." It's an answer, and an appropriate one for the circumstances, but it's not a whole answer.

Finally, when Jesus is baptized, God reveals to John the Baptist that this is the Lamb that God has promised, and so John is able to say, "Behold the Lamb of God." The lamb provided by God is finally here, and Isaac's question from over a thousand years ago finally has an answer.

This title "Lamb of God" is a monumental title for us, and it was also a loaded term for the people who heard John the Baptist speaking. When John spoke of Jesus as the Lamb, it conjured up images for his audience of Isaac like we talked about, but also it would have made them think of all the lambs that were sacrificed at the temple, for forgiveness of the people's sins. So when we hear "Behold the Lamb of God" we should think of all these things too. We should know that this is the forgiveness of our sins. But we don't only hear these words in the Gospel today, we hear them at every Mass just before we receive communion. The priest stands behind the altar, shows us the Host, Christ's Body, 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." This is the same Lamb of God that John pointed to and said "Behold the Lamb of God."

But our world doesn't want to acknowledge Jesus as the Lamb of God. In our politically correct, it comes across as exclusive and divisive to say that Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the one sacrifice that forgives sins. The world doesn't even want to acknowledge that he existed, and if they do, then at best he was a moral teacher with a crazy idea that we should all be nice to each other. People like this idea of Jesus because if he is just a teacher with an idea, then he and his ideas can be rejected like all other ideas.

But we know better. We know that Jesus is THE Lamb of God, he is THE Way, THE Truth, THE Life. He is not one way among many, he is the only way. So when we hear John the Baptist's words "Behold the Lamb of God" we should immediately reaffirm for ourselves that this Lamb, this Jesus, is my everything, because he has given everything for me. His will for me is more important for me than my will for me, because he knows me better than I know myself. And what is his will for me? Obviously that's really individual so I can't address it in a lot of detail in a homily, but the one thing I do want to address about God's will is the Church, and how the Catholic Church is indeed God's will for all of us.

Now what am I talking about here? Sometimes we fall into the danger of thinking the Church is entirely a human creation, and if it's just something that we created, then it's something we can change whenever it needs it. But the reality is a bit more complicated, and far more beautiful. The reality is that before Jesus left this earth, he established this Church in the 12 apostles and sent them out to convert all the nations. His Spirit remained with the apostles when they went out, and we heard that at the end of the first reading when it said, "I will make you a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth." Those words were a prophesy about Jesus. Jesus is to be a light to the ends of the earth, yet we know he never left that narrow piece of land between Galilee and Jerusalem. His Church is this light.

So if this Church is established by Christ and not by humans, then we have to recognize that there are certain aspects that we don't have the authority to change. Things like the seven sacraments and what they are: we can't change them even if we want to. So the Sacrament of Confession is where we go to receive forgiveness. The Sacrament of the Eucharist is where we meet the Jesus, the Lamb of God, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Sometimes people say that if we would just call the Eucharist a symbol and not insist that it is really Jesus, then we'd get along better with the other Christian denominations.

It is not up to us to change the meaning or reality of these things we have been given. What we are called to do is to humbly accept them, because it is in these Sacraments that we meet God. It is in these Sacraments that God wants to meet us. So today, examine your relationship with these Sacraments. Ask yourself "Do I receive the Eucharist worthily? None of us are ever truly worthy to receive the Eucharist, not on our own, but Jesus comes to us anyway because he loves us. Jesus makes us worthy in Confession. So, "Do I go to Confession regularly?" This is the ordinary means that God has given us to receive forgiveness. If you haven't been to Confession in a while, please go back. It doesn't matter how long it's been, Jesus would love to see you there.

Eucharist and Confession are where we meet the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, and we are happy to be called to this supper of the Lamb.

 

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