03 January 2007

NO MORE SUBSTITUTE

Wednesday in the 2nd Week of Christmas
Jn 1:29-34

“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” says John the Baptist as he points to Jesus Christ who came to be baptized by him. The title “Lamb of God” is highly significant for any Jew.

On the night they ran unto freedom from slavery, the Israelites witnessed the saving action of the blood of the lamb. Upon the instruction given by Yahweh to Moses, every Jewish family slaughtered an unblemished lamb; and if the family was too small to consume a whole lamb, it shared with another family. The lamb was roasted while its blood was wiped on the doorpost of the houses of the Jews. That very night, the angel of death came upon the land of Egypt and took the life of every firstborn male – man and animal – in all Egyptian households. While there was intense wailing in the houses of the Egyptians, the homes of the Israelites were haven of security and life. The angel of death passed over the houses of the Jews upon seeing the blood of the lamb on the doorpost of their houses. One may say that that night, the night of their freedom, the blood of the lamb spared the firstborn male of every Jewish household. It should have been their children but it was the lambs instead. The lambs were literally substitutes for their firstborn sons.

When they have finally settled in the Promised Land, the Jews erected the Temple where sacrifices were offered to Yahweh. While their pagan neighbors sacrificed human flesh to their deities, the Chosen People offered lambs as burnt offerings to God.

The lambs during the Exodus event as well as the lambs offered in the Temple later on where substitutes. The lambs spared human lives from being sacrificed. Jesus, however, put an end to all sacrifices by substitution.

When Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist, He took bread and said over it, “This is My Body.” Then He took a cup of wine, blest it, and said, “This is My Blood.” These actions happened during the last supper that Jesus had with His disciples in the Upper Room. That same supper was in commemoration of the Passover Meal that, in turn, immortalizes the memory of the Exodus event. Jesus, however, changes everything by changing bread into His Body and wine into His Blood. He was actually putting an end to all sacrifices by substitution. It was as if He was saying, “From now on, there is no more need for a lamb to take your place on the altar of sacrifice. From now on, there is no more substitution. From now on, I Myself am laying down my life on the altar of sacrifice. I am Your Lamb forever.”

The words of John the Baptist today about Jesus state the definite orientation of Jesus’ life: sacrifice for the salvation of the human race from sin. But Jesus as the Lamb of God is more than a soteriological definition of His identity. Jesus as the Lamb of God is also the missiological statement of our Christian character.

Our mission is to follow the example of Jesus by not substituting others but by volunteering our selves for others. It means that the perennial call to each one of us is to lay down our lives for the life of the many. This resonates well with Jesus’ own words, “Greater love no one has than to lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13) and, “For whoever saves his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for Me and for the Gospel will save it” (Mk 8:35) and again, “Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24).

Substitution is a common escape for many. Even in the Church, when it comes to sacrifices or difficult and menial tasks, substitution is never absent. The temptation to ask, worse force, someone to substitute for one’s self when the task is hard and humbling remains in our midst. And many give in to it. So called “church-people”, not exempted. The Lamb of God challenges that perennial tendency of some and inspires volunteerism in the hearts of the many.

When we hear the words “Behold the Lamb of God”, we need to look at our selves and ask, “Do I sacrifice my self for others or have I made others my sacrificial lambs?” If we are really honest with our answer, we will be surprised about the truth.

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