Our Gospel today comes in three pairs of verses, with each pair offering us further insight into the identity of Jesus Christ. The first pair declares Jesus as the Lamb of God; the second pair shows him as the New Creation; and the third as Son of God.
It is John the Baptist who first points out Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” As a prophet, John preached the need for repentance from sin as preparation for the coming of the Messiah. People heeded John’s call and went to be baptized. But John’s baptism, like our own daily bath, offered only a temporary cleansing. After a while, life happens, we get sweaty and dirty, and we need another bath. Now the great prophet of repentance points us to Jesus, who offers something that surpasses John’s baptism. What Jesus does is entire and eternal. Instead of a symbolic cleansing of sin through the water of the River Jordan, Jesus really takes away sin by the power of his Blood, the Blood of a sacrificial Lamb. The image of the lamb recalls the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. They were spared from the angel of death by the sign of the blood of the Passover lamb. The lamb was also central to the Israelites’ worship in the temple; they were taught to slaughter an unblemished lamb in atonement for sins. Jesus is the true Lamb of God who spares us from eternal death and who atones for our sins through his sacrifice.
When John declares Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the word “sin” is rendered singular. This does not mean only one sin from the many sins of humanity, but rather all sin. It can also be taken as a reference to original sin. The Catechism gives this description of original sin: “Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness” (CCC 397). Thus, if we wish to benefit from Jesus’ sacrifice to atone for our sins and to overcome the power of death, we must follow the Lamb with wholehearted obedience and trust in his goodness.
Today’s Psalm exhorts us to do exactly this. To resist temptations to disobedience and lack of trust, we can make it our constant refrain to say: “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.” Jesus made this very response to the Father on our behalf on the night before he offered his sacrifice on Calvary. During his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed: “Father… not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42). The Psalm today describes obedience and trust not as passive resignation, as if we do not have a choice, but rather as an active, willing gift: “to do your will, O my God, is my delight.” Obeying God and trusting in him, following in the footsteps of the Lamb of God, should be a cause for our delight.
The second pair of Gospel verses takes us from the image of the Lamb of God to the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus. The presence of the Spirit over the water of the Jordan connects the Baptism of Jesus to the first moments of creation, when “the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters” (Gen 1:2). When John says that he saw the Holy Spirit “come down like a dove from Heaven and remain upon him,” we are to recognize that in Jesus, God has revealed the arrival of a New Creation.
In Christ we too have become a new creation. We celebrated this gift last Monday when we recalled the great gift of Baptism, which was our first sacramental encounter with the Lamb who takes away sin. When we were baptized, the power of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection was applied to us personally. We received the Holy Spirit, who came down upon us and remained with us; we were freed of all sin and made holy; we were filled with divine light. Now the words of Isaiah’s prophecy in the first reading, which apply especially to Jesus, can also be applied to us: “It is too little … for you to be my servant …; I will make you a light to the nations.” When the light of the Lord shines in our hearts, we truly become a light for others.
These ideas of being free from sin and filled with light are not just symbols or abstract concepts. This is what it means to be a Christian. In the second reading, St. Paul describes well our identity as baptized Christians: Christians are those “who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy.” Baptism has changed us radically, has made us a new creation. If we could see the real change that takes place when a child is baptized, we would be astounded. It is the same child, yet spiritually so glorious we would barely be able to recognize him. John did not recognize Jesus because his greatness was hidden behind his poverty, and this surprises us. But we do not recognize Jesus either, and we do not recognize ourselves, for the same reason. May we never forget the treasure we have received, nor lose all awareness of our own greatness as children of God!
The final pair of Gospel verses contains John’s testimony that Jesus is “the Son of God” – a truth we profess every time we recite the Creed: “I believe in God the Father Almighty and in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord.” As Christians, we have become children of God in the Son. Through his sacrifice, Jesus Christ has restored our relationship with God that was broken by sin. St. Paul tells us: “You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rm 8:15-16).
As we ponder today’s Scripture readings, and as we “behold the Lamb of God,” we put our faith in him, we rejoice that he has made us a new creation, and we rededicate ourselves to living more fully our true identity as sons and daughters of God, saying in our hearts: “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will!”
How has my knowledge of Jesus as the Lamb of God, the New Creation and the Son of God further strengthened my trust and faith in him? In what ways do I find that obeying and trusting in God is truly a cause for my joy? Do I realize how great a treasure it is to be a child of God? How can I show my gratefulness to God for this great gift?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 2. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.