Behold the Lamb
Gospel Reflection for January 3rd, 2024
“John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one of whom I said, 'A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.'” John 1:29-30
Today’s Gospel comes from St. John’s account and one of the most beautiful themes from today’s reading is the theme of the Lamb. This theme is certainly one that is abundant in the pages of Sacred Scripture. Throughout the books of the Old Testament, we constantly read that the Jewish people sacrifice lambs in atonement for their sins. It is a command by God, not because He is somehow satisfied by a dead lamb, but because He is preparing the people for the true Lamb, the Eternal Lamb, who was to come and be sacrificed in atonement for the people’s sins.
For this reflection, I want to return to just one of these occasions in the Old Testament. We find one of the most important mentions of the lamb in Exodus at the institution of the Passover:
“Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old; you shall take it from the sheep or from the goats; and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs in the evening. Then they shall take some of the blood, and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat them. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it.” Exodus 12:5-8
This passage comes from the command from God to slaughter the Passover lamb so that the Angel of Death would pass over the houses of the Israelites. All of these details are important and intentional in their foreshadowing of Christ. The lamb must be without blemish just as Christ, the new lamb, is without sin. He must be male. He will then be slaughtered just as Christ is slaughtered during His passion. The Israelites are to put the blood of the lamb on their doorposts, a foreshadowing of the wood of the cross. Moreover, it is not included in the Exodus text, but we know from the Law that all the blood must be drained from the lamb before it is sacrificed. According to tradition, Christ poured out every drop of blood during His passion.
Finally, the most important is the fact that the Israelites were instructed to consume their victim. This was necessary for the Israelites in order to benefit from the sacrifice. Without consumption, they would have no part in the sacrifice. This looks forward to the consumption of the Eternal Lamb who pours out His body and blood on the cross and gives it to His people in the Holy Eucharist. This is why Christ takes the Passover meal and gives it new meaning in the Institution of the Eucharist. None of this is coincidental. God commanded the Institution of the Passover in anticipation of the Institution of the Eucharist. And just as the Israelites had to consume their victim in order to gain benefit from it so too, do we, consume the victim of our sacrifice. This same victim is He who tells us:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” John 6:53-54
It is no accident that the Baptist says of Christ, “Behold the Lamb.” The greatest prophet tells the people that their final sacrifice, their Eternal Lamb, has come. We return to these words at every Mass, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world, happy are those called to supper of the Lamb.” As it is in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that we truly do, behold the Lamb.