Not once but twice my brother and I were having lunch in towns well known for seeing famous film stars–Santa Monica and Malibu. In the Santa Monica restaurant I called his attention to the presence of a movie star. In the Malibu restaurant he called my attention to the individual who was famous not only in movies but also in TV. We both felt it would be unwise to draw public attention to their presence.
No so John the Baptist. In the Gospel for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (John 1:29-34) John, seeing Jesus coming toward him and others, rather excitedly says in the hearing of others, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world…” Now that’s a way of getting attention.
But why did John use the image of the “lamb” to refer to Jesus? I suspect that there is a historically theological reason for this. Undoubtedly, those hearing John heard this reference and related it to their Exodus experience. In the book of Exodus (Exodus 12:21-24), as the Israelites are about to leave Egypt, they are told by Moses to slaughter a lamb and spread its blood on the doorposts of their houses. Thus the angel of death will “pass over” their homes, and kill the first born of the Egyptians. The lamb thus became an image of salvation.
At Mass, just before the reception of Communion, the priest celebrant holds the host at eye level, and says, as did John, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sin of the world….” in reference to Jesus’ crucifixion and its salvific effect on humanity.
The second theme of significance in this Gospel is Baptism and the Holy Spirit. Earlier Jesus had been baptized by John in the river Jordan. At that juncture the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, descended upon Jesus and John witnessed it. Then John continued, “…He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” (John 1:33)
What does this mean? Basically it means that Baptism and the Holy Spirit will function together. When we are baptized, the Holy Spirit as the “creative power of God” will enable us to deal with others as Jesus has instructed in his teachings.
So we have as the two themes of the day’s Gospel, the lamb and the Holy Spirit through Baptism. We can learn from the image of the lamb that our suffering (maybe even death) can be a redemptive experience for ourselves and for others. Note the illustration of the martyrs. However, suffering can be a form of martyrdom.
Another point of significance is the awareness of the principal function of Baptism and the Holy Spirit. Namely, the courage to be compassionate, forgiving, understanding, and a promoter of justice. It is not hard to conclude that the above are necessary for effective discipleship. Besides, by our behavior we will be drawing attention to somebody famous, namely Jesus.