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The Lamb Of God

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

Let us reflect for a few minutes on the meaning call Him “Lamb of God.” Although the name was first used by John the Baptist, referring to the Savior, its roots are centuries before Christ in Isaiah, who foretold that the Messiah would be the Suffering Servant and the Lamb to be sacrificed.

We should reflect periodically on the mysteries of our faith, which is, by the way, a very fine way of praying. Choose some one mystery—it may be a name or a word or, as in this case, a title—and in God’s presence ask yourselves and ask God, “What does this mean?” Spend some time examining the meaning; and then apply the insights to yourself.

What then does the title “Lamb of God” mean? It means three things. It means first of all that this is the Lamb of God, no mere lamb of man, of a human being; secondly, that this Lamb was, as the name symbolizes, innocent; and thirdly, that this Lamb was slain.

Christ, therefore, is the Lamb of God—and no genitive was ever more significant—because this is the Lamb which is God. He not only belonged to God, as everything in the world belongs to the Creator; this was the Creator becoming a creature in order that as a creature He might expiate the sins of a sinful world. The lesson for us should be painfully obvious.

Most people think that sin cannot be “all that bad”, seeing how casually and constantly and deeply people sin. Yet, whatever our concept of sin may be, sin in the eyes of God must be the most terrible thing possible if it called on God to expiate it. Sin must be terrifying; it must be vicious; it must be THE evil if God thought that it called on Him, required Him, to expiate it. God as God could not die. He therefore became a mortal human being to make it possible to expiate our sins. This is the Lamb which is God, God who became a Lamb, God who became a human being in order to repair man’s sins. That is the first lesson.

The second lesson of this title is that this Lamb became a human being and suffered. God wanted to suffer. His immediate and principal reason for becoming a human being and suffering was to expiate our sins. But He also wanted to teach us how much He loves us, so that the Incarnation, and eventually Christ’s Passion and crucifixion, were meant to both expiate sin and to teach us God’s love. That is why the same John who recalls the dramatic occasion when John the Baptist pointed to the Savior and said, “That’s the Lamb of God,” is the John who two chapters later in his Gospel tells us that “God so loved the world…..”

Can we ever doubt how much God loves us, because in order to show that He loves, He spoke the language that every person can understand: the language of love is suffering. Those who love endure for the one they love. And, I would add, we love in the exact proportion to our willingness to suffer. If we want to know how much we still love God, after all that we have done to offend Him, we should look at what we do. We tell Him we love Him, and surely we do. But how much? Then the hard question: “How much do I endure for the God that I claim I love?”

But the final lesson, in a way, is the most mysterious. It is not for nothing that among all the animals that Yahweh, back in the Old Law, might have told the Israelites to sacrifice, He told them to sacrifice a lamb: first on the occasion of the great Passover, when they were being delivered from Egypt and then annually to remember and thank God for that deliverance from their enemies. Yes, He told them to sacrifice a lamb, prefiguring the forthcoming Messiah. Why a lamb? Because in the mind of all nations, a lamb is the symbol of innocence and meekness.

When Christ called Herod a fox; that was a figure of speech. Everyone knew what He meant. When we call someone a tiger or a lion or (if he can endure a lot) a horse, we know what the expression means. So, in the wisdom of God, when He chose a lamb to symbolize the Messiah to come—and for our purpose, the Messiah who came—His title “Lamb” is of a God who became man and who suffered. Ah, yes, but He suffered though He Himself was absolutely innocent. And He underwent His suffering with complete, total resignation to the Will of the Father. In a word, He suffered meekly.

These two appellatives of the Master, innocence and meekness, tell us a great deal about the Savior, and tell us some embarrassing things about ourselves. Christ, being the Lamb of God who was God, was the all-holy One. It had to be innocence that would expiate sin.

And we apply this to ourselves. We must tell ourselves something that we don’t often reflect on. As we know, we are to join the Savior insofar as we can to cooperate with Him in the redemption of the world. We speak of making expiation, reparation. We speak of atoning. We speak of joining our sufferings with those of Jesus, to somehow, in ways that we do not comprehend, “make up for sufferings wanting in Christ”, as Saint Paul once said. So we too, in our own way, are meant to help in the redemption of the world. We are to make sacrifices for others to obtain God’s mercy for a sinful world; for the people who are nearest and dearest to us, our own flesh and blood; for the people we know who are our own friends and relatives; and, if it is our vocation, as it is of every priest and religious, to expiate for others. But remember this, we are exactly as effective in expiating the sins of others as we are innocent ourselves.

There are many reasons why we should become more and more sin-less, why we should overcome our passions and sinful tendencies. For one thing—we’d better, otherwise we won’t even be saved. But on the level on which we are reflecting, our innocence, our, please God, growing sinlessness, makes us that much more powerful in making reparation with Christ and like Christ in atoning for the dreadful crimes of a sinful world, and staying the hand of God’s vengeful justice. If we want to be powerful expiators, let us make sure that we too are innocent. Innocence expiates; innocence repairs; innocence atones. And the more sinless we are, the less laden we are with even the least deliberate venial sin, the more this Jesus can use us to join our innocence with His in drawing down God’s mercy on sinful men.

But the lamb symbolizes not only innocence. No matter what language you learn, a lamb is a symbol of meekness. How much this tells us in our willingness to suffer. When we speak of the Savior as being the meek Lamb of God, we are saying far more than words can convey or the deepest understanding of the human mind could conceive, because the meekness of Christ was the meekness of the Almighty.

He told Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Peter drew out his sword and began slashing, as he foolishly thought, to protect his Master, “Peter!” I ‘m sure He told him in Aramaic, “Don’t be silly! Do you think I need that little piece of steel to protect me? Have I been so long with you and yet you don’t know who I am? I’m God! I made the people who are taking me captive. I created my executioners. I made the nails with which they will nail me to the cross!” This was no meekness or weakness. This was the meekness of Omnipotence.

How we need that lesson, the lesson of humbly and resignedly seeing God’s hand. It is always His hand. And seeing God’s lips. It is always His lips that are behind whatever pain human lips can cause us. Having that wisdom, then the will relaxes. How could we dare resist the loving hand of God who causes us pain?

That was the vision of Jesus. He saw in everything that He endured the loving hand of His Father. Meekness, you see, is profound wisdom. It is the wisdom of not resisting God, because it is God who is the One who causes whatever we endure—whether it is physical pain, opposition, misunderstanding, misrepresentation, or, as in Christ’s case, open opposition even to crucifixion. There is so much locked up in those three simple words, “Lamb of God.” In our own way, we too are to be lambs of God.

Transcription of the Homily
by Father John A. Hardon, S.J. to the:
Handmaids of the Precious Blood

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica

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