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Friday, January 14, 2011

Jesus as the Lamb of God

Please listen to the Australian Catholic Radio Online:

“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” was the cry of John the Baptist when he saw Jesus coming toward him.  Our reflections this Sunday will be about Jesus as the “ Lamb of God”.   When Jesus was called the Lamb of God in John 1:29 and John 1:36,  it referred to Jesus as the perfect and ultimate sacrifice for sin.
          The lamb plays a very important role in the life of the Jews, not just because of the commercial value of lambs in their socio-economic life but the symbolism of the lamb in their lives as the People of God.  Let us now go to the Old Testament and take a look at the role of the lamb in the relationship of the Jews with God.  There are three ways of understanding the theology of atonement in the context of the lamb.

1. The Passover lamb.  On the night of the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt, God commanded the people to slaughter lambs for two reasons: a) It was their last meal before they left Egypt.  In Exodus 12 where the Passover rituals were prescribed, God commanded that the lamb must be a year old male and without blemish. It should be slaughtered during the evening twilight, roasted whole without breaking its bones. b) Its blood was applied in the doorposts of every house to spare their first born males from death.
The Passover was the principal feast of the Israelites since the time of Moses until the present time.  It defines them as the People of  God.  As a meal, it is centered around the lamb which symbolizes their redemption from Egypt.  Because the Passover was the salvific event when they were saved as a people, they have to celebrate it once a year to commemorate that event.  Having been part of that annual celebration, the Jews in the present time are assured that they have been grafted to those Israelites who experienced the Passover in Egypt, hence they, too, are saved.
For us Christians, our salvific event was the death of Jesus on Calvary.  It was the moment when he as the true Lamb was sacrificed on the altar of the cross.  This Christian Passover is being celebrated by all of us to commemorate that salvific event whenever we gather in the Eucharist.  Just like the Jews, we Christians are grafted to Jesus in his sacrifice and we are assured that through him we are saved.

2. The lamb being sacrificed in the temple.  As commanded by God in Exodus 29:38-42, there were two lambs being sacrificed in the temple everyday, one in the morning and the other at the evening twilight.  Let us remember that Jesus died at the hour when the second lamb was being sacrificed in the temple.  Isaiah (11:19) and Jeremiah (53:7) prophesied that the Messiah would be like a lamb led to be slaughtered.  The Jews at that time were aware that the sufferings and sacrifice of the Messiah would provide redemption for Israel.

3. The Scapegoat. In Leviticus 16, God commanded the Israelites to celebrate the Day of Atonement.  In the rituals of that feast, there were two goats to be used as a sacrifice and as a scapegoat.  One will be slaughtered as an offering for the atonement of sin at the altar while the other one will be set free in the wilderness which will bear all the sins of the people.

When John saw the lambs being brought to the temple to be used as sacrificial offering, he pointed out to Jesus and said “Behold the Lamb of God”.  Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, we are being reminded of this great truth when we say “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world have mercy us, Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, grant us peace.”
          Jesus is our Passover Lamb which we partake whenever we celebrate the Eucharist; we eat his body.  His blood is not anymore applied in the doorposts of our homes, but rather it is running in our veins hence we will be saved from the wrath of God.  He is also our scapegoat because he took away our sins and made us free.

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