John was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God.”
In the world of the Bible, sitting with disciples gathered at his feet is the correct teaching posture of a rabbi. Hence, by standing as Jesus walks by, John is relinquishing his teaching authority and directing his disciples to the only true Rabbi there is. The impact of John’s words on his former disciples, Andrew and another unnamed one, can only be explained by this statement made by the angel to John’s father, Zechariah: “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). By uttering those words, John proves that that prophecy is ongoing and fully active.
The term “lamb” spoken by a Hebrew to fellow Hebrews conjures up instantaneous images of freshly drawn blood: the blood of the paschal lamb whose sacrifice had freed the Israelites from cruel slavery in Egypt. But John adds that Jesus is the Lamb of God! The Holy Spirit has revealed to John that Jesus is the Lamb that the Father is willing to sacrifice on the cross. Jesus is the Son whose blood the Father has decided should be drawn by one of the worst displays of human cruelty so that his children, all over the world and across the millennia, may learn to replace all the evil in the human heart with genuine love and generous self-giving. Andrew and his friend must be deeply shaken by this startling revelation and, at the same time, drawn irresistibly to Jesus, the true Teacher, the only Rabbi.
Now, let me submit to you that we are reflecting on this event in the life of two of Jesus’ first disciples because the Church is eager to tell us that such startling, potentially life-changing revelations, similar to the this one, are what our heavenly Father desires so ardently to make us experience. The experience of “hanging out” with Jesus, the Lamb that the Father has planned to sacrifice for us and for the whole world, is such that they mark the hour: it was about four in the afternoon.
We do not know what the two disciples and Jesus talked about in the course of those long hours, but, from hindsight, we are certain that the time spent “hanging out” with him altered their lives completely. From that time on, they too, noticed in their heart the desire to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice (cf. Romans 12:1) along with the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. That desire, inexplicable from a mere human point of view, had been placed there by the same Holy Spirit that had filled John from his mother’s womb and had anointed Jesus as the Father’s beloved Son at baptism in the Jordan River.
The first signs that their lives have changed is visible in their inability to keep this revelation for themselves: Andrew’s brother, Simon Peter, is the first one, but then the same infectious life alteration affects Philip and Nathanael and so on. In the 20 plus centuries of the Church’s history it is impossible to assess how many disciples of Jesus felt this desire for sacrificial self-immolation that was and is inspired by the blood of the Lamb of God.
The Church has always reserved special honors and veneration for her martyrs. There is an incredibly strong, unbreakable bond between the One sacrificed on the cross and those who gave their life for him. A pale idea of this much stronger bond can be found in the bond uniting the families of organ donors to organ recipients.
Indeed the Gift of the Lamb on the cross continues to implement the Father’s plan of replacing evil, pain, darkness and death with fruits of love for the benefit of everyone. This replacement has to continue until all evil is vanquished and genuine love triumphs. And for this to happen, the number of those inspired by the sacrifice of the Lamb has to increase.
If today we are given pause by the shedding of the blood of the Lamb of God, yet we feel drawn to him to join our self-immolation to his and to the one of countless martyrs, we have to become familiar with God’s voice. Let us face it: we are surrounded by instances of evil and pain and death, not to mention the pain we carry inside.
Today, on this Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, we find in these readings (1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19 and John 1:35-42) the umpteenth offer of grace to join the throngs of martyrs. We, members of the Catholic Church, are anointed as priests to offer our bodies as living sacrifices in union with the Body of Christ resolve, today, to become familiar with the voice of the Lord. Very few, if any of us, will be asked to lay down our life the way St. Maximilian Kolbe did to save the life of a family man selected for execution in retaliation for a prisoners’ escape from a Nazi concentration camp. Some will be inspired, out of love, to offer their bodies in considerable, prolonged, self-sacrifice for a member of their family. Others will be invited by God’s Word to do the same for total strangers. But, I can guarantee you all, that the level of evil, pain, darkness and death will not be lowered unless we too join the Sacrifice of the Lamb of God.
Frankly, I feel embarrassed realizing that at every Holy Mass I raise the Host over the chalice of Christ’s Blood and repeat the words of John the Baptist that turned upside down the lives of Andrew and his friend; yet many times I do not feel so moved as to renew my self-immolation out of love. If you too got into the habit of allowing these sacred words to leave you unmoved, whenever challenged by God’s Word, please join me in repeating Samuel’s words: “speak, Lord, for your servants are listening and ready to join their bodies to the Sacrifice of the Lamb of God.”