Homily by Father Alex McAllister SDS
We begin today the sequence of readings we call Ordinary Time. This Liturgical Season is divided into two parts. The first part which we begin today takes us from the beginning of the year up to Ash Wednesday. Once Lent and Easter have run their course we recommence Ordinary Time which carries us through the remainder of the year until it ends with the feast of Christ the King at the very end of November.
The Gospel readings of this long season lead us through the life of Jesus and tell us the story of his public ministry. We hear what Jesus did, where he went and who he met; we are told about the miracles that he performed and the teaching that he gave to the people. Although the accounts of these three years are summarised in only twenty or so short chapters in each of the Gospels they do give us a wonderful overview of what Jesus achieved during this important period of his life.
It is extraordinarily important for us to understand these things because they are the very basis of the Christian faith, the absolute fundamentals of our religion. It is vital for us to know just how Jesus interacted with people and how he challenged their faith. It is essential that his priorities are revealed to us and that we are presented with the entire content of his teaching. Without these first-hand accounts of his life we would have nothing on which to build our belief in him and his Gospel of Love.
The Gospels of Year A in the Liturgical Cycle almost entirely come from St Matthew but on this the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time we are actually presented with an extract from the Gospel of John which tells us how John the Baptist came to identify Jesus.
In the text we are told that when John the Baptist saw Jesus approaching him he immediately declared to his disciples that he is the Lamb of God. Although we don’t have it today, if we continue for a few further verses we hear how the very next day when John sees Jesus a second time he once again identifies him as the Lamb of God. At this point two of his disciples who were walking with him, one of them being Andrew, leave John and start to follow Jesus.
John the Baptist’s role is now over and so he retires into the background only to appear much later in the Gospels when he is martyred by the cruel King Herod.
It is with this identification by John the Baptist that Jesus begins his three year long public ministry. John reveals his identity to his disciples and they leave their former master and take up with Jesus. The new disciples follow Jesus on his journey through Palestine and besides witnessing all that he did they receive a lot of personal instruction from him. Eventually they end up in Jerusalem where they witness Christ’s death and resurrection and then after Pentecost begin their own work of evangelising all the people of the world.
In the coming weeks and months we, like those first disciples, also follow Jesus and are inducted into his teaching and way of life. In the Gospels of Ordinary Time we are told about his miracles and we hear the content of his teaching. Through the words of St Matthew we become closely acquainted with Jesus and we learn more and more about him. This knowledge changes us as it also changed the lives of the disciples. The more we become familiar with his message Christ’s love and forgiveness the more we change, the more we choose to follow his way, and the more we decide to leave off our own selfish interests and desires.
You might think it a bit strange that John the Baptist uses the words, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God’ when he sees Jesus. The words are unusual and striking. Actually this title for Jesus is unique to the Gospel of John, and even in John’s Gospel it only occurs twice; once here in verse 29 and then again in verse 36 which we already referred to when we mentioned the second occasion John encounters Jesus the day after this first meeting.
In the Jewish mind the use of such a title would have immediately been understood to refer to the Paschal Lamb which was consumed as part of the Passover Meal. John the Evangelist puts this title here in the mouth of John the Baptist quite deliberately in order to point out right from the start the identity and purpose of Jesus.
On the first Passover the blood of the lamb which has been sacrificed is spread over the door lintel as a sign to the Angel that he should pass over this house of the Israelites as he flies overhead on his avenging mission to slaughter the first-born of the Egyptians. This meal is repeated each year by the Jews to remind them of this seminal event in their history.
So we can immediately see that the blood of the sacrificial lamb is a very powerful symbol of the salvation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and also of their identity as a people. The Christian Church looks back on the Exodus from Egypt and sees it as a foreshadowing of the salvation won by Christ on the Cross of Calvary.
The use of this title by John is therefore to be seen as firstly recalling the Exodus and the great liberation that God brought about for the People of Israel. Secondly, it is equally to be seen as a looking forward to the salvation Christ won for us on the Cross of Calvary.
In the case of Christ, the symbol of the lamb becomes even more potent since it was he himself who was sacrificed to release us from our sins. Christ himself becomes the lamb of sacrifice and so these words of John the Baptist can be seen as a tremendous prophecy of what Christ was to achieve and how he was to realise it.
Of course, we are well aware that these words of John have found their way into the liturgy and have become the words the priest uses to invite us to receive Holy Communion. They are in themselves an important profession of our faith: ‘Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who comes to take away the sins of the world.’
John the Baptist is the precursor of Jesus and he comes to prepare the way for him. By his use of this title ‘Lamb of God’ we see just how effectively John the Baptist carries out his task. By identifying Christ and leading his disciples to him John has fulfilled his commission and handed over to the one who was to achieve the greatest act of salvation of all.
John effectively tells us that there is no other who can save us from our sins and that we should place our whole hope and trust in him. On what better note could we begin this new liturgical season. What better invitation could we ever be offered. Let us grasp it wholeheartedly and commit our whole lives to Christ who is the author of our salvation.
St Joseph's Catholic Church
191 High Road
18.00 (Vigil with Hymns)
09.30 (Family Mass)
11.00 (Solemn Mass)
12.30 (With Hymns)
Weekdays: 07.30 & 10.00
Confessions: Saturday 10.30-11.00 & 19.00-19.30
St Joseph's Catholic Church
T: 020 8427 1955
Saturday: 18.00 (Vigil with Hymns)
Sunday: 08.15, 09.30 (Family Mass), 11.00 (Solemn Mass), 12.30, 18.00
Weekdays: 07.30, 10.00 - additional mass every first Friday at 19.00
Saturday: 11.00 & 19.00-19.30
First Friday: 18.00-18.45
EXPOSITION & BENEDICTION
First Friday: 18.00-18-45