Behold, the Lamb of God
January 16, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Isaiah 49:3, 5-6) Reading II (1 Corinthians 1:1-3)
Gospel (St. John 1:29-34)
In the Gospel reading today, we hear a line that we have heard so often that most of us do not think much about it. Saint John the Baptist, standing there with a couple of his disciples, sees Jesus walking past, looks at Him and says, Behold, the Lamb of God; Behold Him Who takes away the sins of the world. We hear those words, of course, at every Mass that we attend right before receiving Holy Communion, and we have become so accustomed to those words that perhaps we have never really stopped to ask, “Why do we say that,” especially when you look at it in light of what comes at the end of today’s Gospel reading. After Saint John the Baptist gives testimony that he saw the skies open and the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus and rest upon Him, he says, Therefore, I have testified that He is the Son of God. If he recognizes that He is the Son of God, why did he not look at his disciples and say, “Behold, the Son of God,” instead of saying, “the Lamb of God”?
Well, the reason has to do with the understanding for the Jewish people of what it meant that He was the Lamb of God. It hearkens all the way back to the Book of Exodus, when we are told that the father of each family had to procure for his family a lamb. The lamb had to be a male without blemish and it was to be sacrificed at the evening twilight. The blood was to be sprinkled upon the doorposts and the lintels of the house, and they were to eat the roasted flesh of the lamb. It was the Passover of the Lord, and in those homes the angel of death would pass over. Now if we look at what happens with Our Lord, we hear in the first reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, as God, once again speaking of His servant, tells him, It is not enough for you to raise up the tribes of Jacob and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations. All the peoples are going to be brought into one. All of the peoples, not only those people of Israel, but all the people of the nations who will believe in the Name of Jesus Christ will be children of the heavenly Father. And so if the father of the family is to procure a lamb for his family, that is precisely what our heavenly Father has done. He has procured a Lamb Who was a male without blemish. When we look at Saint John’s Gospel, where he gives to us a timeline that is based on the lunar calendar instead of the solar calendar, we see that the time at which Our Lord was sacrificed was exactly the same time that the lambs would be sacrificed in the temple. He is showing that Jesus is the Passover Lamb, that He is the sacrifice that God our Father has made on behalf of His own children.
We can also look further in Scripture to be able to understand the meaning of calling Jesus the “Lamb of God”. For instance, we look at the Book of Revelation and we hear about the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the One Who is victorious, the One Who is found worthy to open the book that was sealed with the seven seals. It is exactly what you see in the middle of the altar if you look at it carefully, the Lamb who is upon the book with the seven seals. But in this vision of the Lion of the tribe of Judah, Saint John suddenly sees a Lamb Who had been slain. So the Lamb and the Lion are one and the same in this particular reading. This fulfills what had been prophesied regarding Judah all the way back at the end of the Book of Genesis. It also fulfills what God had promised through Abraham.
Recall the day that Isaac was walking toward Mount Moriah – which, by the way, is the exact same mountain upon which Jesus was crucified – and as he was walking along, carrying the wood upon his shoulders, he looked at his father Abraham and said, Here is the wood, here is the fire, but where is the lamb for the sacrifice? And Abraham said, God will provide Himself a sacrifice. And He has. God Himself became the sacrifice. It is not just that God Himself provided a sacrifice, but God provided Himself as the sacrifice, as the Lamb Who would be sacrificed for the family, the Promised One, the only-begotten Son, the One upon Whom all the promises rest. Back in the Book of Genesis, the drama was that it suddenly appeared that this son who was promised to Abraham was going to be wiped out. And what would happen to all of God’s promises? But now we have the One Who was foreshadowed by Isaac, the One upon Whom all the promises rest, and the only way those promises are going to be fulfilled is if He is sacrificed.
So we ask ourselves why. Well, Saint Paul answers that question. He tells us it is so that we could be sanctified, so that we could be saints, that is, everyone who believes in the Name of the Lord Jesus and prays to Him because He is their Lord. And so the purpose is that we could become holy.
Now if we are going to be able to do this, once again we look at the Gospel reading and we hear the words of Saint John the Baptist when he tells us that the very reason he was sent to baptize was so that Jesus could be revealed to Israel. The baptism of John was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and it was this repentance that brought about the revelation of Christ to the people of Israel. That being the case, it is no different now. The only way Jesus is going to be revealed to us, that is, the only way we are going to be able to understand, the only way we will be able to truly see Him in the depths of our hearts and souls is to repent. If the blood of the lamb is to be placed upon the doorposts and the lintels of the house so that the angel of death would pass over, how is the Blood of the Lamb applying now to us? In the confessional, when we repent of our sins and when we are washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb.
We also must repent if we are going to be able to recognize Him present among us in the Blessed Sacrament, because back in the Book of Exodus it was not enough that the people would sacrifice the lamb. It was not even enough that they would put the blood over the doorposts and the lintels. God required that they ate the flesh of the lamb. If they did not eat the flesh of the lamb, the firstborn son would be dead in the morning. Even if they had sacrificed the lamb and put the blood upon the doorposts and the lintels, if they did not eat the flesh of the lamb, the firstborn son would die. So what does Jesus tell us? Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Before we can receive Holy Communion, we must be in the state of grace; we must repent. We see the exact same pattern. If we do not repent and we receive Holy Communion when we are in the state of mortal sin, it is a sacrilege; we have failed to discern the Body and Blood of Christ. In his First Letter to the Corinthians from which the first reading came, if we look eleven chapters later, Saint Paul tells us that the very reason why some have died and many are sick is because they received Holy Communion in the state of mortal sin, because they failed to discern the Body and Blood of Christ. Therefore, they become guilty of the Body and Blood of Christ because they unworthily received the bread, as he says. It is because it is not mere bread – it is the fullness of Jesus Christ. It is the Bread of Life.
This is what the Lord is giving to us. He gives us Himself. He gives us His life. But He is revealed to us only when we are willing to repent. The further we move away from sin, the more clearly we are able to discern His presence among us. And the very purpose, as Saint Paul says, is so we could be sanctified, be made holy, and become saints. And what do we receive through the sacraments? Once again, it is precisely the point Saint Paul makes at the end of the second reading when he says, The grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. That is what we receive. We receive grace, the life of God. We receive that interior peace which Our Lord gives to us. He says, as His parting gift, It is a peace that the world cannot give. That is what we are being given. That is what it means to call Him the “Lamb of God”.
He is the Passover Lamb. The people of Israel had to eat the lamb with their sandals on and with their loins girt because they were a people in flight. They were going through the desert to the Promised Land – and so are we. We are sojourners and strangers in this land. Our citizenship is in heaven, not on earth. Therefore, we eat the Passover meal because the true Passover is from this desert of the world to heaven. And what is heaven? The marriage banquet of the Lamb. Once again, we will see the Lamb of God and He will be our feast forever. He will be revealed to the children of our heavenly Father in the fullness of His glory in heaven for those who repent, for those who are sanctified, for those who call upon the Name of Jesus, our Lord and theirs, as Saint Paul says.
That is the glory God is giving to us. The only way we will be able to embrace it and enter into it is when the fullness of the revelation of Jesus Christ is accepted by us, that is, when we repent and He is revealed to us in the depths of our hearts, so that when the priest holds the host and says to us, Behold, the Lamb of God; Behold Him Who takes away the sins of the world, we will understand, we will repent, we will receive Him with a heart that is pure and full of love so that into us will be infused not only the revelation of the Lamb of God, Who is the Son of God, but the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ will fill our souls and we will be able to look beyond this world to the world to come where we will be able to enjoy for all eternity the marriage banquet of the Lamb of God.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.