EPIPHANY II - C - 17 JOHN 1. 29-42
“John saw Jesus coming towards him…” The scene in today’s gospel reading takes place after the Baptist has been questioned by the religious leaders of Israel over who he thinks he is and why he is baptizing. John responds to his inquisitors by telling them that he is not the Christ (Messiah). His baptism is of water, whereas, the baptism of Christ will be with Holy Spirit. His job is to prepare the way and then get out of the way.
The words and actions of John, nevertheless, have attracted a small band of followers who are with him when “John saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” After making his declaration John adds his testimony. Jesus is the one whom God has sent; the one who will baptize with Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Son of God.
I can only begin to imagine what must have gone through the minds of John’s disciples when they heard this. What could all of this possibly mean for Israel, and more importantly for them? John’s words and actions had stirred their imaginations, warmed their hearts and raised their hopes that one day they would find Messiah. Now, John was pointing him out! Could it really be true?
The next day when John was standing with two of his disciples, Jesus passed by a second time. Again John declared him as the lamb of God. By doing so John pointed away from himself and towards Jesus. The two disciples of John were moved to follow Christ. As Gentiles, so far removed from this scene and the times, we overlook the significance of the title “Lamb of God.”
John’s designation of Jesus as God’s lamb is significant in that it points to how things are going to end and why Jesus dies a sacrificial death for the sins of the world. For the disciples of John, who were Jewish, his words evoked certain images. The title “lamb of God” makes one think, first of all, of the Passover lamb.
John is explicit in dating the death of Jesus on the afternoon of the “preparation “ day when the lambs were slaughtered in the Temple courtyard. Thus we say in the Eucharist that Christ is our Passover sacrificed for us.
A second image, and just as important if not more so, comes from Isaiah. The lamb signifies the servant of God who would be lead as a lamb to the slaughter bearing the sins of the world. The image John evokes, then, points to the function of Messiah.
“Look here is the lamb of God,” John said. He might have just as well said “go follow him. He is a leader who can save you from sin and will lead you to victory.” Both thoughts may have been combined which moved Andrew and the other disciple to leave John and follow Jesus.
What Andrew and the other disciple thought they were doing was looking for Messiah. What they didn’t realize was that Messiah was looking for them. They had no idea what that was going to involve.
When Jesus finds them he gives them a new vocation. It was a life-changing moment. He even gave Simon a new name. The new life began for them, as it does for each of us, at baptism. We go looking for Jesus only to discover that he has been looking for us all along.
As St. Paul reminded the Church at Corinth, “God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his son…” It is God who initiates the relationship; it is up to us to respond.
John’s baptism by water might wash away sin, but Jesus’ baptism with Holy Spirit removes it. And by removing it, we who have been baptized into his death and raised to new life in him have become a new people; “not lacking in any spiritual gift as we wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ,” as St. Paul aptly reminds us.
There is a danger, however, in having been a Christian for years on end.
We can become complacent in our vocation, as did the God’s people Israel, and miss the true meaning of what Jesus has done and continues to do for the life of the world and what it is God is calling us to do in response.
Israel was God’s chosen people. He gave them the vocation of being the “light of the world.” As Isaiah reminds Israel “ I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.“
They were to point to God and prepare the world for the Day of His coming. But they became complacent and focused more on themselves as the chosen ones and less on preparing the world for that Day.
In doing so, they failed to live into their God-given vocation. God sent his prophet, John Baptist, to call them to repentance as a means of preparing themselves and the world for the coming of the Promised One. But they were blinded by their own self-righteousness and relied on the fact that they were sons of Abraham.
God’s Messiah came. God provided for himself a lamb of sacrifice who would bear the sins of the world and by his death and resurrection would open the way for all who believed in Him to have eternal life. But Israel did not recognize him and chose instead to reject him by nailing Him to the cross.
The vocation God initially gave to his people Israel now belongs to the Church, the bride of Christ. We are the new Israel. Our vocation as Christians, to go and make disciples of all nations, came to each of us at our baptism where we were sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’ own forever.
Like John Baptist, and the Israel of old, our role is to point away from ourselves and to Him who is the true light of the world, so that “He may be made known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth,” even Jesus Christ Our Lord. AMEN+