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Fr Billy Swan

Dear friends. Last week’s Gospel brought us to the banks of the river Jordan for Jesus’ baptism. This week, we go back there again to hear a very important announcement by John about who Jesus is.

At every Mass just before holy communion, the priest holds up the broken host above the chalice and declares to the people: ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the Sin of the world. Happy are we who are called to the supper of the Lamb’. The first of these words come directly from today’s Gospel when, after he had baptised Jesus, declared: ‘Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world'. But what on earth do those words mean? How is Jesus Christ the lamb of God and how does he take away the sin of the world?

First the ‘Sin of the world’. The word ‘Sin’ here stands for all the human dysfunction we see around us. It is the social sin of things like racism, inequality, violence, greed, and systems that uphold injustice. It is the ‘Sin’ that leads to multiple ‘sins’ carried out by individuals like cruelty against our fellow human being, selfishness, pride, theft, infidelity, indifference, jealousy – the list goes on. But it all stems from the truth that we live in a fallen world in need of redemption and that we share in a fallen human nature.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am fully with St Paul who said that: ‘Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more’ (Rom. 5:20). There is more good than bad and it is this goodness that triumphs in the end. That said, the inconvenient truth is that we are in need of saving.

This is precisely why Jesus came - to save us from our dysfunction and to restore the social and individual harmony that God wants us to enjoy. This was his mission. Jesus Christ came to take away the sin that is the darkness, cruelty and selfishness that infects the human condition.

But how does he do this? As the lamb of God. When we hear Jesus described as a lamb, we might think of him as innocent and gentle. And while there is some truth in this, for the people who heard John the Baptist that day, hearing Jesus described as a lamb would have identified him immediately with a temple sacrifice for sin. The paschal lamb was killed by Jewish families at Passover as a sacrifice for their sins. Therefore, when John pointed to Jesus that day and said: ‘Behold the lamb of God’, his listeners were being informed that this man’s life was going to be one of sacrifice. It was also a prophesy that he would die a violent death in order to save us from sin.

Jesus carried out his mission not just as an innocent lamb but as a warrior who engaged directly with all that he wanted to put right. He brought his light into the heart of the darkness in order to overcome it. On the cross, he allowed all the filth, cruelty and violence to wash over him and to become victim of it all, so that he could break its power. Jesus’ victory over sin was a spiritual victory that goes to the heart of everything.

Jesus taught us to love each other, respect each other’s human rights, to be just, fair and non-violent. He taught us the power of kindness, of mercy and gave us the grace to forgive as he did. He taught us that unless we put God in first place in our lives then we are prone to addictions to things like drugs that lead to gangland violence and the destruction of lives. He taught us the art of how to love properly, where to find the truth to believe in and to live in hope. He taught us that every precious life matters, born and unborn, young and old, healthy and sick. And it is the power of his grace at work within us that sets things right. Here is how and why our faith in Christ is not just a private matter but leads to social unity and respect for human rights and human life itself.

Finally, a reminder of what John asks us to do – to Behold him. Look at him, over and over again. See him, contemplate his sacrifice, his cross and his wounds he bore for you and me. In the words of the prophet Zechariah: ‘They shall look on the One they have pierced’ (12:10). This is what we do at this Mass and every Mass where the sacrifice of Christ is re-presented and our sin is once again taken away. Yes, happy indeed we are who are called to the supper of the lamb.

Our world needs Jesus Christ as a Saviour to take away the sin of the world – the sin that causes so much suffering and pain. His Gospel offers hope to a world mired in a spiritual and moral crisis that threatens to break society apart. May we welcome him into our hearts and find in him new hope.

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