January 15th 2017. Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading ...
Seeing Jesus coming towards him, John said, ‘Look, there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. This is the one I spoke of when I said: A man is coming after me who ranks before me because he existed before me. I did not know him myself, and yet it was to reveal him to Israel that I came baptising with water.’ John also declared, ‘I saw the Spirit coming down on him from heaven like a dove and resting on him. I did not know him myself, but he who sent me to baptise with water had said to me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and rest is the one who is going to baptise with the Holy Spirit.”
Yes, I have seen and I am the witness that he is the Chosen One of God.’
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ
Kieran’s summary . . . John the Baptist points out Jesus and says, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”. Before the Exodus, the Israelites sacrificed a lamb and spread his blood upon their doorposts, thus saving them from extermination when the Angel of Death passed by. The Exodus was a historical event at one moment in time, but Jesus is the lamb of God who saves us from death, saves us from separation with God in a much more radical way. The true drama of human life is our exile from God, our broken communion with the Father, the emptiness we feel inside of us. We seek to resolve human problems by creating structures, developing democracy, eradicating poverty. There is no doubt that much human progress has been achieved, but no political or economic solution can tackle the fundamental issue at the heart of humanity – our sinfulness. Only Jesus can confront that problem, but how does he do it? We translate the phrase from John the Baptist as “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” but the original Greek says “who takes upon himself the sins of the world”. This difference is important and demonstrates the self-giving manner in which Christ saves us. Only Jesus can touch the emptiness and alienation that is inside the human heart, and he does it in a personal way. John the Baptist testified to the presence of the Holy Spirit with Jesus. The presence of the Holy Spirit is not about dramatic gifts or extraordinary abilities. The fundamental gift of the Spirit is the forgiveness of our sins and the planting in our hearts of a solid joy that comes from being pardoned and loved.
In Egypt the people were saved from extermination by the blood of the lamb spread on each doorpost. But Jesus is the lamb who saves all of us from extermination in a much more general sense. All of us are separated from God. We do not have full communion with him. We are cut off from God and in need of a lamb to save us.
In the Gospel, John the Baptist points out Jesus in a very distinctive manner. The key for interpreting this passage is given by the second canticle of the servant found in the first reading. Here the Lord says, “You are my servant Israel in whom I shall be glorified”. This servant was formed in the womb by the Lord with a definite purpose. He is not only to be a servant, but will be a light to the nations through whom salvation will reach the ends of the earth. What is this salvation referred to in the prophet Isaiah? John the Baptist is the last of the prophets and sees the Lord Jesus approaching him. He describes the salvation wrought by Jesus in liturgical language, in terms of the most important liturgy of the Jewish people – the Passover. The lamb of the Passover saved the people of Israel from extermination in Egypt. If the blood of the lamb was spread on the door, then the Angel of Death passed over the household, whilst the first-born of each Egyptian household was slain. This extermination was a particular historical event confined to a particular place and time, but it came to refer to death in a much more general sense, the death that is a daily feature of human life. The true drama of human existence is the fact of our separation from God, the fact that we are not in full communion with him, our self-imposed solitude in the face of the love of God.
We work hard to bring justice and democracy to the world, but our structural changes can only achieve so much. The radical thing amiss with humanity is its state of sin. No structure can tackle our sinfulness, our broken communion with God. How does this lamb bring us back into communion with God? By wiping away sin like the way chalk is wiped off the blackboard? No, Jesus takes our sins upon himself.
John the Baptist points out the lamb of God “who takes away the sins of the world”. This translation comes from the Latin rendering of the phrase which has been used liturgically from ancient times. The Greek term used originally in John’s Gospel means to “take upon himself the sins of the world”. The sins are tackled not simply by eliminating them but by bearing them. Who can tackle the enigma of humanity, the disaster of its separation from God? We have tried to improve humanity by developing democracy and improving our structures, and there is no doubt that many good and beneficial things have been achieved. Some poverties have been eliminated and there has been healthy evolution in certain quarters. But there is something dramatically amiss that we cannot achieve by ourselves. No matter what wonderful structures we construct, we cannot remove sin from the life of humanity. No human being is able to tackle this fundamental issue. The Pharisees will later criticize Jesus for his claim to forgive sins because they know that only God can accomplish that. Only God can touch, resolve, illuminate this interior crisis of man. Our vices, the irresolution of our being, the barriers we construct around us, the emptiness we feel within – these are all symptoms of the separation between us and God, of the fact that we are not rooted in the love of the Father.
The Holy Spirit is with Jesus and his mission is the forgiveness of sins. We sometimes think the Holy Spirit is given so that we can do extraordinary feats, but his fundamental mission is to forgive our sins and plant the joy of being loved firmly in our hearts.
“Behold, the Lamb of God!” It is for this reason that John is convinced that Jesus is the Son of God, because of his ability to bear our sins. Only Jesus is capable of entering into the sadness of humanity, taking it upon himself on the cross when he becomes the sacrificial Lamb, the Lamb who is given, the Lamb who is slain, but yet wins the most difficult of all battles – the battle that rages within the heart of man. Other generations will come, people throughout history who will appropriate this salvation by allowing Jesus to bear our faults. The prophet Isaiah in the first reading foretells the coming of this servant who is not only a servant but also the light that leads us out of darkness of our solitude. Jesus is the servant upon whom the Holy Spirit comes to rest. The presence of the Holy Spirit does not refer to stunning gifts of knowledge or extraordinary abilities. The Holy Spirit is given for the forgiveness of sins, for planting solidly in the heart of man that which he lacks: the joy of being loved, the joy of being forgiven. John the Baptist announces that which was there from the beginning, the plan of God that exists from eternity. The Word of God, the second person of the Trinity, has a mission with respect to humanity, to love us and forgive us.