Behold the Lamb of God, Behold the Man

Lectio Divina: 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

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1)     The Lamb of God is Human promotion

      This Sunday the longest period of the liturgical year begins, the Ordinary Time[1] during which the Church does not celebrate a particular mystery of the Lord’s life and the history of salvation, but the mystery of Christ in its entirety. It is the time in which we are invited to follow the footsteps of Jesus toward the fulfillment of history (34th Sunday). It is the period in which we are invited to contemplate the teachings and the work of the Savior during his public life. From Sunday to Sunday we follow the Lord on the path of the “fulfillment of all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15), so that the Church becomes more and more like her master and groom.

     To better understand these events, the Liturgy of today makes us examine them in the light of the divinity of Jesus, whose incarnation makes life a sanctuary of the divinity. Not only his life is divine, but also with the salvation he brought to us in taking away sins, our daily lives, our work, our joys and tenderness become the environment of the divine holiness.

     In Jesus, Lamb of God[2], holiness is revealed as formidable promotion of life and of man. It is a man that, having been forgiven, is transfigured and made child of God.

     On the day of his ordination, the priest receives the consecration of the hands. It is indeed a magnificent event. But in Christ all hands are holy, all hands are consecrated, all hands can become hands of light.

     In Christ all the bodies are called to become the Temple of the Holy Spirit and the Limbs of Jesus Christ. The Temple that we are is much more beautiful than any church made of stone. God is in us more than in a church, because He is in that church to be in us.

     In the Gospel, all faces are called to radiate the Face of Christ. The vocation that He gives us when presented as the Lamb of God is not a call to enter a prohibited area. To gather us in unity He invites us to the table, where “very simply” we eat the bread and drink the wine made the body and the blood of the Lamb of God by the sacrament so that we become the One we eat.

2)     The Lamb of God that forgives

     In today’s gospel (Jn 1:29-34) there is a profession of faith in Christ divided into three statements:

     “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29), the Lamb that leads to the source of life, of happiness, and wipes away every tear from our eyes (cf. Rev 7.14 to 17);

     “I saw the Spirit descending like a dove from heaven, and remain upon Him” (1:32);

     And the “Son of God” (1:34).

     The statement on which I dwell in particular is the first one: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” taking them on himself. The Immaculate that erases the sins of the world through his suffering and his death reveals His heart to this world that wants to measure everything, even God and his gift. Today, as at every Mass, we are asked to accept this statement as it is, an indication of the Eucharistic gift of God to us, and to answer to it as the liturgy asks: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but just say the word and my soul shall be healed.” The Lamb that the priest shows elevating the host, must be worship in his divine humility and eaten in communion with his infinite charity.

     To properly understand the Gospel passage, let’s go back to the scene that it describes. After the forty days in the desert where he had gone after the baptism of John, Jesus returns to the Baptist. John must have been shocked by seeing the Son of God coming back to him, and most importantly with the aspect of a man tried by fasting and temptation in the wilderness. John knows that the man who comes to meet him again is the Son of God, the Beloved One. He sees the Messiah of the tribe of Judah, but in Him he does not perceive the Lion of Judah, he sees the Lamb of God, the victim that was offering himself freely as a sacrifice so that the world could be redeemed.

     Among the multitude of sinners he recognized the innocent splendor of the God-Man, who had left the glory of Heaven to come to be slaughtered on Earth and pointed him to his disciples as the person to be followed in his place.

     The disciples did not and were not able to understand what their master John wanted to say in indicating Master Jesus as the Lamb, an image not clearly known to the Jews to indicate the long-awaited liberator. But we know (or at least we can know) that in the New Testament the word lamb is mentioned four times[3] and always in reference to Jesus. We know from the beginning that the Church looked at Jesus as Jesus saw himself, the servant of God – innocent, suffering and patient – like a lamb led to the slaughter.  We know that in Aramaic the word “talja “means both “lamb” and “servant.” We know also that according to John,[4] Jesus is likened to the paschal lamb, as it can be deduced from the fact that the crucifixion took place to coincide with the Jewish Passover and even with the same time in which in the temple the lambs were being sacrificed for the Passover sacrifice (as we can read in the book Jesus of Nazareth by Joseph Ratzinger- Benedict XVI, Milan 2007, pp. 446).

     Today’s Gospel presents us with the mission of tenderness of Christ that requires the collaboration of our love. This Gospel makes us put our feet in the steps of Jesus and asks us to accompany him to the end, to achieve this mysterious plan in which the triumph of God must be fulfilled in the “defeat” of the Cross so that we know that it is not for us to wait with folded arms the creation of a destiny that is fulfilled without us. On the contrary, we are involved with God in the work to build a world based on love, a world whose creative dimension is a dimension of generosity and self-giving, with Christ, through Christ and in Christ.

     The Church keeps always in his heart the Heart of the Bridegroom, and in the heart of the Church it is always possible to live in holiness and to become the beautiful bride of the slain Lamb.

     In this the consecrated Virgins are of example. They have said yes to Christ the Bridegroom and thanks to that, their presence in the Church and in the world is a living Gospel, a testimony of God, which they offer, reveal and communicate without speaking. Their life is a life of loving communion with Christ, who calls, forgives and stays with us conforming us to Him: “In the consecrated life, therefore,  it is not only to follow Christ with all your heart, loving him “more than our father and mother, more than our son or daughter “(cf. Mt 10: 37) as is required of every disciple, but to live and express it with the adhesion to Christ of the entire existence, in an all-encompassing tension that anticipates, as far as possible in time and according to the different charismas, the eschatological perfection”. (Blessed John Paul II, Ex Ap. Post-Sin. Consecrated Life, N.16)

Roman Rite

IS 49:3.3-5; Ps 40; 1Cor 1:1-3; Jn 1:29-34

Ambrosian Rite – Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Nm 20:2.6-13; Ps 94; Rm8:22-27; Jn 2:1-11

Patristic Reading

To Follow the Lamb that was Slain


Melito of Sardis

Bishop andEarly Church Father

There was much proclaimed by the prophets about the mystery of the Passover: that mystery is Christ, and to him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

For the sake of suffering humanity he came down from heaven to earth, clothed himself in that humanity in the Virgin’s womb, and was born a
man. Having then a body capable of suffering, he took the pain of fallen man upon himself; he triumphed over the diseases of soul and body that were its cause, and by his Spirit, which was incapable of dying, he dealt man’s destroyer, death, a fatal blow.

He was led forth like a lamb; he was slaughtered like a sheep. He ransomed us from our servitude to the world, as he had ransomed Israel from the hand of Egypt; he freed us from our slavery to the devil, as he had freed Israel from the hand of Pharaoh. He sealed our souls with his own Spirit, and the members of our body with his own blood.

He is the One who covered death with shame and cast the devil into mourning, as Moses cast Pharaoh into mourning. He is the One who smote sin and robbed iniquity of offspring, as Moses robbed the Egyptians of their offspring. He is the One who brought us out of slavery into freedom, out of darkness into light, out of death into life, out of tyranny into an eternal kingdom; who made us a new priesthood, a people chosen to be his own for ever. He is the Passover that is our salvation.

It is he who endured every kind of suffering in all those who foreshadowed him. In Abel he was slain, in Isaac bound, in Jacob exiled, in Joseph sold, in Moses exposed to die. He was sacrificed in the Passover lamb, persecuted in David, dishonored in the prophets.

It is he who was made man of the Virgin, he who was hung on the tree; it is he who was buried in the earth, raised from the dead, and taken up to the heights of heaven. He is the mute lamb, the slain lamb, the lamb born of Mary, the fair ewe. He was seized from the flock, dragged off to be slaughtered, sacrificed in the evening, and buried at night. On the tree no bone of his was broken; in the earth his body knew no decay He is the One who rose from the dead, and who raised man from the depths of the tomb.

[1] The ordinary time is made up of 33 or 34 weeks, distributed between the feast of the Baptism of the Lord and the beginning of Lent (first period), and in the week after Pentecost and the Feast of Christ the King (second period ).

Two elements are crucial to grasp the meaning and importance of Ordinary Time: the lectionary that with the irregular reading of the synoptic gospels pulses the path of the Sundays and of the weekdays, and Sunday as the Lord’s Day and the first day of the week.  On Sunday in each annual cycle a different evangelist is read: Matthew in Year A, Mark in Year B, Luke in the year C. The first reading from the Old Testament is chosen according to the Gospel so that there is a relationship of promise – fulfilling and prophecy -fulfillment. The second reading instead follows the irregular reading of the writings of Saint Paul, the letter of Saint James, and the Epistle to the Hebrews. Even on weekdays the criterion of the irregular reading of the biblical texts is followed.  Every year the three Synoptic Gospels  are read: Mark ( 1-9 weeks ) , Matthew ( weeks 10-22 ) , Luke ( weeks 23-34 ) .

[2] The Characterization of Jesus as “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” is amazing. We can translate this sentence also as “the one who carries the sin of the world”. The Greek word means, “to take away, to remove” and to take away what has to be removed, it is necessary to carry it on one’s shoulders. To remove the sin of the world the Lamb takes on the consequences of sin in surrogated expiation. In doing so, he removes every effect of the sin or better of the guilt of sin, and puts it aside. Consequently the definition unites the two facts, the assumption of sin and its elimination. This exegesis illustrates very well the ambivalence of the Greek expression ho airon ten hamartian tou kosmou (Latin: qui tollit peccatum mundi) whose verb airo, like the Latin tollere means either to take away or to take on one’s shoulders. This is not a philological erudition in itself. With this expression the two John refer either to the 4th poem of the Servant of the Lord (Is 53:1-12) or to the expiatory lamb of Leviticus 14:12-13, or finally to the Pascal lamb (Ex 12:1-4; Jn 19:36) that becomes the symbol of the redemption.

[3] Jn 1:29.36; Act 8:32; 1 Pt 1:19

[4] Jn 19:36

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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