HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR A.
THE SACRIFICIAL LAMB
-Fr. Gerald M. Musa
The statue of Inikpi stands by the bank of the River Niger at Ega in Idah town of Kogi State, Nigeria. Igala people recall the history of Inikpi with pride and a sense of reverence because she was the princess who laid down her life at a critical point in the history of the people. At that time, there was war between the Kingdom of Igala and Bini Kingdom and when the Atta (king) of Igala, Ayegbu Oma Idoko and his people consulted the oracle, they were told that the only way they could survive the war was to sacrifice the only daughter of King. The King could not imagine how to offer his own beloved daughter Inikpi as a sacrificial lamb. After several days of restlessness, Inikpi was informed about the message of the Oracle, and she willingly offered herself in order to save the people of the Kingdom. She was buried alive in sacrifice. To this day the people of the land believe that the blood of this princess saved them from death and defeat.
Several world religions, including African Traditional Religions offer sacrifices. Qorban is animal sacrifice offered among Jews as peace and burnt offerings. Muslims sacrifice Rams in commemoration of the sacrifice offered by Abraham. The concept of Scape goat originates from the book of Leviticus16:8 where the people casted lots over two goats. Today, a person who is blamed and punished for the sins of other people is called a scapegoat. The people of Sukuma in Western Tanzania have a proverb which says, Mbuli ya kitambo ikachagayumela (The sacrificial goat dies while screaming in anguish).
SACRIFICIAL LAMB – AGNUS DEI: The lamb, which is a little sheep, played a prominent role in the Scriptures, beginning with the Old Testament. Abel, one of the Sons of Adam offered to God a lamb, the best of the first-born lambs of his flock as a sacrifice (Genesis 4:4; Hebrews. 11:4). Later on, God put before Abraham one of the greatest challenges when he said to him: “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” (Genesis 22:2) Abraham was about to carry out God’s command when a lamb was miraculously provided to take the place of Isaac (Genesis 22:13). The blood of the lamb saved the people of Israel before their departure from Egypt, the land of captivity. The people were told, “The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt (Exodus 12:13). Furthermore, the Lord asked the people of Israel to make an offering of their animals in atonement for their sins (Leviticus Chapters 16 and 23). These Old Testament passages formed a background to the role of Jesus as the lamb of sacrifice for the sins of the world. The Prophecy of Isaiah about the suffering servant perfectly fitted into the mission of Jesus. The whole of the 53rd Chapter of Isaiah pointed to Jesus as the Lamb, especially the 7th verse which says:
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
Some passages of the New Testament confirm the mission of Jesus as the sacrificial lamb for the atonement of the sins of the people who are in the new dispensation. This passages do not just talk about a lamb sacrificed for the sins of the people of Israel but for the whole of humanity, from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Revelation 5:9). The Apostle Peter reminds us of our redemption through the precious blood of the lamb: For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Whenever, we celebrate the Mass or the Eucharist we do so in thanksgiving to God for sending his son who shed his blood for our salvation. Before his passion and death, Jesus the Lamb of God, gathered his disciples for the last supper in which he shared his blood with them saying: This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28). Whenever, we say Amen to the blood of Christ, what it implies is we are sharing in the true blood of the lamb.
HE TAKES AWAY THE SIN/SINS AND SORROWS OF THE WORLD: In the celebration of the Eucharist, we always repeat the words of John the Baptist which says, ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.’(Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis).Yes, he takes away the original SIN from the individual as well as his personal or actual SINS. He takes away original sin by removing the curse which is placed on us as a result of the sin of Adam and Eve. Another fact which is important is that the blood of the lamb does not only cleanse us from original sin, but also restores the original blessing, plan and design made by God for the happiness of everyone. He takes away our personal sins because we are all conscious of the fact that we are sinners in need of his mercy. The letter to the Romans reminds us that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (3:23). The Epistle of John also recalls our sinful condition when it says: If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. Only Jesus is able to deliver us from our sins.
We need a saviour to deliver us from the sins and sorrows of the world. There are times when we feel very comfortable and secure that we feel we have no need of a saviour or even no need of a God.
WITNESS: John the Baptist proclaimed ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. By pointing to Jesus as the Lamb of God, John becomes a vocal witness to that Lamb of God whose sacrifice, goodness and mercies we enjoy. We are called to imitate this lamb, by making sacrifice for the benefit of others. He gave his life that we might have life in abundance, and so we are called to give our lives that others may grow. Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day, says, “The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.”
2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, A/ Isaiah 49:3, 5-6; 1 Corinthians 1:1-3; John 1:29-34