“John exclaimed, ‘Look, there’s the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!’ … When the two disciples heard John say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” … “Come and see,” Jesus replied.”John 1: 29-42
There are three sentences at the heart of John 1: 29-42. One from John the Baptist: “Look, there’s the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” and two from Jesus: “What do you want?” and “Come and see.” John’s gospel begins with the verse “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was in God’s presence, and the Word was God.” As I reflected on this gospel passage, I was struck with the realization that the first utterance we hear from the Word – Jesus – is a question. “What do you want?” God comes to humanity in person to simply ask: “How can I help?”
The question comes to us today. What do we want? What are we seeking? What is it we need at the depths of our being? The disciples in this story answered Jesus with a question of their own. “Rabbi” (which means teacher) where are you staying?” This is more than a question about his lodgings. By addressing him as “Rabbi” they are stating the obvious – they want to be his students. The reason they started following him in the first place was because of what John had shouted out about him. What these disciples were looking for was answers to humanity’s ongoing dilemma. I imagine them looking at this man Jesus and wondering, “Can you really take away the sins of the world?” That seems an impossible task.
Humanity needs to be lifted out of our selfishness, our violence, our hatreds, our fears, our petty meanness, our despair, our stinginess, our unforgiveness, and our narrow mindedness. John shouted out the same words we Catholics say in our Eucharistic liturgy. We are yearning for God to have mercy on us and grant us peace. We are yearning for the sins of the world to be taken away. The disciples in John’s gospel are willing to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn from him just how this might be done.
So, Jesus says, “Come and see.” Jesus invites them and invites us to follow him, hear what he says, see what he does, and discover for ourselves how this might be done. Jesus extends an open invitation, knowing that many will not follow, and some, even if they follow, will not stay with him.
The disciples were looking for the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. If we are looking for something else, we might be disappointed. Jesus does not offer us status, privilege, or riches, in spite of what you hear from those who expound a “prosperity gospel.” He doesn’t offer us security or freedom from suffering. In fact, he warns that following him is risky. But he invites us to share his life, his friendship, his ministry, and his love.
The title, Lamb of God, reminds us of the Passover Lamb from Exodus. (Exodus 12) As the Lamb of God Jesus calls us to prepare for liberation, marks us as belonging to God, and provides nourishment for the journey. There is another lamb reference that comes to mind. Lambs were used for burnt offerings. A burnt offering was a way to give something to God totally, holding nothing for oneself. Christ Jesus is God’s whole burnt offering, totally offered to us with nothing held back. The sacrifice Jesus made was his whole life, given up for us. He chose to do the will of God, who sent him, even to the point of accepting death.
The Aramaic word for lamb is “talya” and it also means child or servant. This brings us to a reading from Isaiah 49: 3, 5-6. Christ Jesus comes as God’s servant to gather the people of Israel and to be a light for all the nations. Jesus comes to gather all of creation into the unity of God’s love. Jesus comes to lift humanity out of its sins by giving his whole life, with nothing held back, teaching us about justice and peace, about non-violent resistance to violence, about how-to live-in God’s love. The so-what about all of this is that now we are the Body of Christ. We are the ongoing mystery of the Incarnation. To the extent that we continue the ministry of Christ, we are his ongoing presence, sent like him, to change the world. We also are called to lift humanity free of its sins.
The sins of the world are to be taken away and replaced by love of others. And of course, it begins with us. We allow God to take away our sins and replace them with love, forgiveness, hope, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and acceptance. This seems to happen one person at a time, one community at a time, and if we persist, the whole world can have its sins taken away and be brought into the unity of God’s love. Taking away the sins of the world is not just up to God, it is our job, too, and we do it step by step.
My beloved ones in Christ, let us not give up on kindness, peace, and love. There is no other way to change the world.