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In the first reading, we read a foretelling of Christ through Isaiah. Christ is the servant who is glorious. He will raise up the tribes of Jacob and restore Israel. Christ will be the light to the nations and this light will bring salvation to the ends of the earth. After Christmas and the Epiphany, we are getting a glimpse of why Christ came. He came to bring us all to salvation. This salvation is not just for Israel. It is for all nations; hence, why the Church is 'Catholic' or universal. The responsorial Psalm echoes this work of Christ as a servant who is obedient (Philippians 2:8). He became our sacrifice for God has no need for animal sacrifices (Hebrews 10:4). Animal sacrifices were thought to remove sin in the Hebrew culture.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI write in his book, Jesus of Nazareth page 39, "The Greek word that is here translated as 'expiation' is hilasteriou, of which the Hebrew equivalent is Kapporet. This word designated the covering of the Ark of the Covenant. This is the place over which YHWH appears in a cloud, the place of the mysterious presence of God. This holy place is sprinkled with the blood of the bull killed as a sin-offering on the Day of Atonement -- the Yom ha Kippurim. The thinking here is that the blood of the victim, into which all human sins are absorbed, actually touches the Divinity and is thereby cleansed -- and in the process, human beings, represented by the blood, are also purified through this contact with God." Christ is the victim now whose blood serves as expiation (Romans 3:25, 1 Corinthians 5:7, 1 Peter 1:18-19). we have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, as St. Paul tells us in the second reading. We have no need for animal sacrifices or the rites of old. This is why in today's Gospel, St. John the Baptist says that Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Christ is the one. The Messiah promised of old. Christ existed before John because He is God. John makes this very clear. He describes how the dove from heaven came down upon Christ. This dove is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not a bird of animal. He chose this form as a sign of gentleness and God's peace (Genesis 8:11). This represents Christ who would do His ministry on earth with gentleness, mercy and love.
Let us focus on this Chosen One, Christ the Lord and really pay close attention at Mass during the 'Lamb of God.' Jesus is truly present before us under the appearance of bread and wine. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! We may not be worthy to enter His under HIs roof, but He invites us anyhow. May Jesus be praised!
Here are more reflections from some of our holy thinkers:
There are five animals that are offered on the altar, three being land animals and two winged. It seems worthwhile to me to ask why the Savior is said to be a “lamb” by John and none of the rest. But also, in the case of the land animals, since three types of animal are offered according to each species, why did he name the lamb from the species of sheep? Now these are the five animals: a young bull, a sheep, a goat, a turtledove, a pigeon.Source: “Commentary on the Gospel of John, 6.264-65, 268,” quoted in Joel C. Elowsky, ed., John 1–10, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 68–69.
And the three types of sheep are a ram, the ewe and the lamb.… It is the lamb, however, that we find offered in the perpetual sacrifices. … What other perpetual sacrifice can be spiritual to a spiritual being than the Word in his prime, the Word symbolically called “lamb”?… But if we examine the declaration about Jesus, who is pointed out by John in the words “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” from the standpoint of the plan of salvation when the Son of God bodily lived among the human race, we will assume that the lamb is none other than his humanity. For he “was led as a sheep to the slaughter and was dumb as a lamb before its shearer,” saying, “I was an innocent lamb being led to be sacrificed.”
This is why in the Apocalypse, too, a little lamb is seen “standing as though slain.” This lamb, indeed, which was slain according to certain secret reasons, has become the expiation of the whole world. According to the Father’s love for humanity, he also submitted to slaughter on behalf of the world, purchasing us with his own blood from him who bought us when we had sold ourselves into sin. He, however, who led this lamb to the sacrifice was God in man, the great high priest, who reveals this through the saying, “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.”
(185 - 254)
Eliezar sought Rebekah as a bride at a well of water. Jacob sought Rachel at a well of water, as Moses did so with Zipporah. Thus, all of these were types of the Lord, who sought his church as a bride by the baptism at the Jordan River. And just as Eliezar made Rebekah known to his master when he came to meet her in the field, so also John made our Savior known at the Jordan: “See, the Lamb of God, for he takes away the sin of the world.”Source: “Homilies on the Gospel of John, 17.2,” quoted in Joel C. Elowsky, ed., John 1–10, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 71-72.
— St. Ephrem the Syrian
(306 - 373)
Jesus then did not need baptism, nor did that washing have any other object than to prepare for all others a way to faith in Christ. For [the Baptist] did not say, “that I might cleanse those who are baptized” or “that I might deliver them from their sins” but “that he should be made known to Israel.”Source: “Homilies on the Gospel of John, 17.2,” quoted in Joel C. Elowsky, ed., John 1–10, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 71-72.
And why, tell me, could he not have preached without baptism and still brought the multitudes to him? But this would not have made it any easier. For they would not have all run together like they did, if the preaching had been without baptism. They would not by the comparison have learned his superiority.
The multitude came together not to hear his words, but for what? They came to be “baptized, confessing their sins.” But when they came, they were taught the matters pertaining to Christ and the difference of his baptism. Yet even this baptism of John was of greater dignity than the Jewish one, and therefore all ran to it; yet even so it was imperfect.
— St. John Chrysostom
(347 - 407)