Behold the Lamb of God
Gospel Reflection for January 13, 2023 - Jn 1:29-34
The next day, John saw Jesus coming to him, and he saith: Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who taketh away the sin of the world.
This is he, of whom I said: After me there cometh a man, who is preferred before me: because he was before me.
And I knew him not, but that he may be made manifest in Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.
And John gave testimony, saying: I saw the Spirit coming down, as a dove from heaven, and he remained upon him.
And I knew him not; but he who sent me to baptize with water, said to me: He upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining upon him, he it is that baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.
And I saw, and I gave testimony, that this is the Son of God. (John 1:29-34 DRA)
St. John the Baptist, the last prophet of the Old Covenant, the herald and forerunner of Christ who went into the desert to prepare a way for the Messiah, described by Christ thusly: “there hath not risen among them that are born of women a greater than John the Baptist” (Mt 11:11) – this man whom even his Jewish opponents respected and whom the Jewish scholar Josephus would later praise, fully and openly recognized his total humility before the glory and perfection of Christ. Like Moses before the burning bush, who removed his sandals at God’s command before standing on the terra sancta of His divine presence, (Ex 3:5) John submitted to one whom he knew to be his superior, both as God and man, testifying: “The same is he that shall come after me, who is preferred before me: the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to loose.” (Jn 1:27)
Similarly, like the prophet Isaias, whom God “formed… from the womb to be his servant,” (Is 49:5) John, despite knowing nothing of Jesus by the time of adulthood, recognized Him while he was still in his mother St. Elizabeth’s womb, leaping at the voice of the Blessed Virgin Mary when Christ’s unborn presence was near him. (Lk 1:41) Now, just as the Queen of Heaven condescended to bring her Lord to Elizabeth and John, to evangelize the good news of the Gospel which even in Christ’s earliest earthly days was already victorious, Jesus now condescends to submit Himself to His creature, the Author to one of His characters, to a mere human born in original sin and needing salvation like everyone else.
The King of Kings and Lord of Lords, whom His own Holy Ghost remains upon, announcing His divinity and messianic mission to the world, becomes the Lamb of God, the pure and immaculate sacrificial offering to God who, like the lambs led to the slaughter in the Temple of Jerusalem, is affixed with our sins and whose Blood washes all of them away. For this reason St. John the Apostle, the sacred writer of this Gospel passage, can in his Apocalypse hear the Lord say, “Blessed are they that wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb: that they may have a right to the tree of life, and may enter in by the gates into the city.” (Rev 22:14)
All of these mysteries, these transcendent realities and gifts of grace revealed in history and transmitted to us through Tradition, can seem remote or even irrelevant today, just historical events that mattered then and may matter in the future but do not matter now. Nothing could be further from the truth. As the Son of God, recognized as such explicitly by John and implicitly by his insight that Jesus, who was younger than him, “is preferred before me: because he was before me,” Jesus was not simply washed of dirt, nor were His sins forgiven, since He had no sin. Rather, by His Baptism, Christ opened up to us a participation in the death to sin and the rising to eternal life which He would later accomplish in His Passion and Resurrection. Through our own baptisms, we are imbued with this new creation, this new life in the Body of Christ, with its gifts of graces and infused virtues by which God merits salvation for us. Every other Sacrament, including the summit of the Eucharist, renews the divine life of charity wrought in us by baptism and increases our openness to the love of God by cleansing us of sin, with its infernal deceptions and glamorous attachments. And St. John the Baptist continues to intercede for us, just as he did at the river Jordan, praying that we may recognize the Lamb of God as our salvation, persevere in our baptismal promises and share the Gospel with all nations.
Origen gives a very practical application of these lessons which I also want to share with you. He writes:
Long before this, the Mother of Jesus, as soon as she had conceived Him, went to see the mother of John then pregnant; and as soon as the sound of Mary’s salutation reached the ears of Elisabeth, John leaped in the womb: but now the Baptist himself after his testimony seeth Jesus coming. Men are first prepared by hearing from others, and then see with their own eyes. The example of Mary going to see Elisabeth her inferior, and the Son of God going to see the Baptist, should teach us modesty and fervent charity to our inferiors. (Catena Aurea)
Just as the Blessed Virgin and Jesus Christ demonstrated their great humility by sharing the Gospel with those inferior to them, so we should always treat those “beneath” us, whether in worldly terms or as regards the stage of our spiritual journey toward Christ, even those who seem hopelessly far from Him, with the same humility, generosity and charity, seeing Christ even in the least and confessing our own helplessness and corruption before God, who gives us infinitely more than we could ever deserve.
I believe that one of the reasons that “he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he [John the Baptist]” (Matthew 11:11) is because Christ’s baptism of the Holy Spirit was not yet available for John. At Pentecost, it became available for everyone.