HOMILY FOR THE 2ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A.
THEME: BEHOLD THE LAMB.
BY: Fr. Gerald Musa.
In some parts of Africa names and nicknames are associated with certain animals. Most often people bear names of animals that are brave or strong. Among Hausa speakers there are names such as Zaki (Lion), Giwa (Elephant) Kura (Hyena). In the Eastern part of Nigeria, there are people who answer the name Agu (Lion) or Aguiyi (Crocodile). Among the Yorubas, the names Edunjobi and Erinjobi are associated with Monkey and Elephant respectively. Interestingly, most of these names are associated with strong and smart animals.
One wonders why John the Baptist chose to call Jesus “lamb” and not a horse, bull or shark. Why did he refer to a great personality like Jesus as a young sheep, which is seemingly weak for a great personality like Jesus? A lamb is not a name that any family would like to give their baby. A lamb is not famous, a lamb appears feeble and too tender and is sometimes considered as a dumb animal – this is why people talk about sheepish behavior.
John needed to introduce Jesus formally and he must have known that introducing someone is an art. More so, introducing a special guest to an audience demands some special skills. At public occasions, special guests enjoy formal introduction, which goes with a public announcement of their accomplishments. John the Baptist could have presented Jesus to the audience with the following words: “Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great honour to introduce a well respected Rabbi, the long-awaited Messiah, the mighty saviour, the prince of the peace and a man with great wisdom. And so, let us please rise and give a warm round of applause to Jesus Christ. John adopted a different style (simple and profound). He says, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).
In the scriptures, the lamb is significant. The lamb is presented as a victim (Isaiah 65:25); it is a sacrificial animal for morning and evening sacrifice (Exodus 29:38-41) and sacrificed on significant occasions such as the Passover feast, Pentecost, presentation of first fruits (Leviticus 23:12). The lamb is also sacrificed in different rites of purification such as post-natal purification of women (Leviticus 12:6) and purification of lepers (Leviticus 14:12-25).
John the Baptist must have found no other title befitting for Jesus other than the “Lamb” because the lamb is the sacrificial animal, which points to Jesus laying down his life for the salvation of the world; John selects this title for Jesus because the lamb of sacrifice is considered to be innocent, uncontaminated and unblemished. Similarly, Jesus is human in all things except sin. The lamb is gentle and meek and so was Jesus who is meek and gentle of heart. The blood of the lamb is a symbol of salvation and so the people of Israel smeared their doorposts with this blood and they were saved from death (Exodus 12). Jesus shed his blood for the salvation of mankind. While he was on the cross blood and water flowed from his side. He also washed away our sins with his blood (Revelation 1:50). Just before he died he offered his blood to his disciples saying take this all of you and drink of it, for this is the cup of my blood which will be shed for you and for all. On the day of Passover each Jewish family offers the lamb for sacrifice and consume it. And so, Eucharistic meal (Mass) becomes the new Passover in which the baptised partake in the body and blood of Christ.
John must have deemed it wise to compare Jesus with a lamb because in ancient times, the lamb as a sacrificial animal is a mediator, which re-unites and reconcile people with God. Among the Jews there is a process of transferring guilt of the people to an unblemished lamb and this is called atonement. In the new dispensation, Jesus offers himself as the unblemished lamb for atonement. He, it is, who is the mediator that restores the relationship between God and the human person and gave his life as a ransom for all. He was put to death on account of our sins and raised up for the sake of our justification (Romans 4:25). The lamb is therefore a perfect metaphor for Jesus Christ.
William Shakespeare writes in the play “As You Like It: “The whole world is a stage, and all the men and women merely actors. They have their exits and their entrances” (Act 2 Scene 7). At the time when John introduced Jesus, he had completed his mission on earth and was about to give way for Jesus to begin his mission. Sometimes, it is not easy to quit the stage entirely when our mission is accomplished. We want to find reasons to hang on to power and the privileges that go with it. This is the reason why tension exists between predecessors and successors, former leaders and incumbent leader, out-going officials and the in-coming, between retired and active workers, between the older and younger generation, etc. John sets an example by leaving the stage when the ovation was loud. He knew his role was to be a witness to the light. Each one has a special role to play on the world stage: to be light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6) and more importantly, to strive to be holy and unblemished as the lamb (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:2).
2nd Sunday of Year A,
Cf: Isaiah 49:3, 5-6; 1 Corinthians 1:1-3; John 1:29-34
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