January 17, 2020

Christ the Cornerstone

Jesus is anointed with the Holy Spirit and empowered by God’s love

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

John the Baptist saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon Jesus (Jn 1:32). “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’ ” (Jn 1:29-30).

The Gospel reading for this weekend (the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time) features St. John the Baptist boldly proclaiming Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (cf. Jn 1:29-34). To those who doubted Jesus, John makes it clear that he is the one who “ranks ahead of me because he existed before me” (Jn 1:30).

The “Lamb of God” is a powerful image in sacred Scripture. In the Old Testament, the sacrificial lamb was a scapegoat, one who suffers innocently for the sake of others. In the Book of Revelation, the lamb is portrayed as lion-like. The lamb conquers the forces of evil. He saves us because of his sacrifice on the cross which is seen as an active choice—to do his Father’s will—rather than the passive acceptance of a cruel fate.

The Lamb of God boldly proclaimed by John the Baptist is both an innocent scapegoat and a lion-like ruler who takes away the sin of the world. He is a paradoxical figure whose apparent weakness is his greatest strength. Jesus conquers sin and death not by confronting them, but by accepting them.

St. Augustine once asked: “Why a lamb in his passion? Because he underwent death without being guilty of any iniquity. Why a lion in his passion? Because in being slain, he slew death. Why a lamb in his resurrection? Because his innocence is everlasting. Why a lion in his resurrection? Because everlasting also is his might.”

What is different about Jesus is that he leads by serving and, in doing so, he shows us that true love is sacrificial, not self-serving. The Lamb of God surrenders to his Father’s will. He accepts that he must sacrifice himself for our salvation. And he faces his own ignominious death (accompanied by insults, cruel torture and, ultimately, crucifixion) without protest or complaint because he loves us—even his enemies.

In today’s culture, love is presented in a variety of ways and it takes on different meanings, depending on the context. But the most authentic representations of love in books, films and other forms of media are usually sacrificial. A mother chooses the life of her unborn child over her own life. A man refuses to participate in a shady business deal because he believes that his integrity is the greatest gift he can give his family. Martyrs succumb to religious persecution and death because they refuse to be intimidated by falsehood or state-sponsored idolatry.

Jesus, the Lamb of God, showed us that love seeks the good of others in the long run, not what feels good in the moment. Although he was innocent of any crime, he chose death on a cross rather than protesting the cruelty and injustice of his accusers. He was passive in the face of this great evil, but as St. Augustine says, he was lion-like in his passion, death and resurrection from the dead.

What does the sacrificial Lamb of God tell us about our own lives? How can we learn from him and grow in our understanding of the meaning of true love?

In the simplest possible terms, we see in Jesus the supreme values of humility and self-surrender. While everything and everyone around us seem to urge us to be aggressive and self-serving, the Lamb of God shows us that we must surrender to God’s will in order to win true happiness and life everlasting. We learn from him how to be gentle and accepting as lambs at the same time that we must be as bold and courageous as lions.

Love is sacrificial. Peace is gained through surrender. Happiness comes with and through sorrow. The truth of these paradoxical statements is expressed most fully in the example of Jesus, the lamb who was slain—willingly—for our sins and the sin of the world.

Let’s join John the Baptist in proclaiming boldly: Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Behold the one who ranks ahead of us because he existed before us. He alone can save us from sin and death.

And let’s pray together: Agnus Dei, qui tolis peccata mundi, miserere nobis; dona nobis pacem (Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us; grant us peace.) †

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