St. John the Baptist’s favorite title for Jesus is “the Lamb of God.” It also became one of St. John the Evangelist’s favorite titles. He uses it here in his Gospel, and then he used it again, twenty-nine times, in the Book of Revelation. This title Lamb of God brings together three images that would have been very familiar to the Jews of those times. By calling Jesus the “Lamb of God,” St John is telling us that those ancient images are fulfilled in Jesus.
The first image: In the Old Covenant, God required the Jews to sacrifice a lamb twice a day to expiate the sins of the people (cf. Exodus 29:39). So the lamb symbolized the price to be paid for sin.
The second image: The primary holy day of the Jews was (and remains) the Passover. In the Passover ceremony each family sacrifices and eats a lamb to recall their liberation from Egypt in the days of Moses. On that night, God allowed the death of all the firstborn children and animals of the Egyptians, but spared those of the Hebrews. In order to indicate which households the angel of death was to skip over (pass over), God commanded the Hebrews to kill a lamb and mark their doorposts with its blood. Thus the Passover lamb signified God’s merciful and saving love.
The third image: Finally, a lamb going silently and docilely to be slaughtered is one of the images used to describe the coming Messiah. He was going to take Israel’s sins upon himself and wipe them away through his suffering obedience. And so, by calling Jesus the “Lamb of God,” St. John reminds us that all of these Old Testament symbols had been pointing towards Jesus – the true Savior. As the Lamb our Lord paid the price for sin. As the Lamb our Lord is the personification of merciful and saving love. And as the Lamb our Lord went to the cross silently and docilely.
Sometimes it is good for us to remember the basics of our faith. God created us. He created us to live in communion with Him; in Him alone we find perfect happiness. This is our fundamental purpose in life, communion with Him – it’s the reason that nothing else in the world satisfies our deepest desires. Not money, because money runs out. Not pleasure, because pleasure wears off. Not power, because power corrupts. Our hearts were made for more than all those things. They were made to love and be loved with an eternal love, and that can only come from God. But as we know, Adam and Eve walked out on God, and the human race became lost and fell under the power of the devil. We couldn’t save ourselves, so Jesus came to rescue us. As a true man and true God, he was able to end mankind’s rebellion against God and reestablish our communion with God. We belong to God; we belong to God because He created us. But we also belong to God because He bought us back; he bought us back through his death on the cross.
I have a story that symbolizes how God bought us back. It was the 1800s and a young miner who had recently struck it rich in the gold rush was on his way back East. As he stopped in New Orleans to rest, he noticed a crowd of people gathering for some kind of event.
He approached the crowd and quickly learned they were there for a slave auction. He heard a gavel bang on wood and a man shouted, “Sold!” just as a middle-aged black man was taken away. Next, a beautiful young black girl was pushed onto the platform and made to walk around so everyone could see her. The miner heard vile jokes and comments that spoke of evil intentions from those around him. The bidding began. Within a minute, because of her beauty, the bids surpassed what most slave owners would pay for a black girl. Finally, one man bid a price that was beyond the reach of the other. The girl looked down.
The auctioneer called out, “Going once! Going twice!” Just before the final call, the miner yelled out a price that was exactly twice the previous bid, an amount that exceeded the worth of any man. The crowd laughed. The miner opened up the bag of gold he had brought for the trip. The auctioneer shook his head in disbelief as he waved the girl over to him. The girl walked down the steps of the platform until she was eye-to-eye with the miner. She spat straight in his face and said through clenched teeth, “I hate you!”
The miner, without a word, wiped his face, paid the auctioneer, took the girl by the hand, and walked away from the still-laughing crowd.
Stretching out his hand, he said to the girl, “Here are your freedom papers.” The girl looked at the papers, then looked at him, and looked at the papers once again. “You just bought me…and now, you’re setting me free?”
“That’s why I bought you. I bought you to set you free.”
The beautiful young girl fell to her knees in front of the miner, tears streaming down her face.
“You bought me to set me free! You bought me to set me free!” She said over and over. The miner said nothing. Clutching his muddy boots, the girl looked up at the miner and said, “All I want to do is to serve you, because you bought me and set me free!” She said it again, “All I want to do is to serve you, because you bought me and set me free!”
That’s what God did for us – we are twice his. First we are His because he created us and second we are His because He bought us back, He bought us back when we were lost to the devil and in slavery to sin and death, but instead of paying with gold, he paid with his blood – the blood of the Lamb of God. Our Lord gave His life for us, shedding every last drop of blood for us. Our Lord rescued us, gave us a future, gave us hope, and gave us our lives. On Good Friday we were slaves but three days later on Easter morning we were set free. May we always live in gratitude, never forgetting the price paid.
May we be great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley