As we enter a brief period of what is called “Ordinary Time” in our Church calendar, our Gospel reading for Sunday (John 1:29-34) points out a basic tenet of our faith. In our reading, John the Baptist sees Jesus coming toward him, and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” As I was reflecting on this, I thought of all the terms the Baptist did not use to refer to Jesus. He didn’t say, “Hail to the Victor” (a la the University of Michigan). He didn’t use the term “Conqueror,” or “Emperor,” or “King.” Instead he says “The Lamb of God.”
There is a lot of meaning in the term “Lamb of God.” (See the notes on this Gospel verse in the NAB). It can refer to the lamb whose blood was put on the doorposts at the first Passover to save Israel (Exodus 12), or to the Suffering Servant likened to “a lamb led to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7). This Person of love and sacrifice is also the One of whom John the Baptist says “ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.” In other words, the Messiah, the Savior, is not one who conquers by force, or seeks domination over others. Instead, our Lord saves us by a giving of His entire self, body and blood, poured out for us.
To extend this line of reflection even more, the Baptist also says about Jesus, that He is the one “who takes away the sin of the world.” Again, note that this is not the usual response when we think of sin and evil. We often have a reaction to evil of seeking vengeance. But Jesus is not referred to as the one “who takes away the sinners of the world;” much as we might think that is the desirable outcome. Thanks be to God!
And so it is the Lamb of God in whom we have been “sanctified” and “called to be holy,” in the words of our second reading in 1 Corinthians (1:1-3). It is the Lamb of God to whom we witness as a “light to the nations,” in the words of our first reading from Isaiah (49:3, 5-6). It is the One who loves us and has sacrificed Himself for us whom we are called to follow.
Although we work for justice and stand for the Gospel, we do not seek vengeance against others or dominion over them. We seek to practice the love of Jesus Christ. This may be worth considering here in the U.S. as we celebrate the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday, and we witness, no matter how we may feel about the election, a peaceful transition from one presidential administration to another on Friday.
May God give us the grace to be faithful disciples of the Lamb of God.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior at St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Community in Detroit, Michigan.