The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world
In this beautiful homily for 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Father Hanly talks about sin, what sin really is, and responsibility.
Readings for Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
- First Reading: Isaiah 49:3, 5-6
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10
- Second Reading: First Corinthians 1:1-3
- Gospel: John 1:29-34
Today is the beginning of the public life of Jesus. As you remember, Christmas is over, the child is grown up, the child becomes a man and the man is baptised in the waters by John the Baptist, a sign of his oneness with all of humanity, that he is indeed the Messiah but he is true God and true man.
Today, we see John the Baptist testifying that Jesus indeed is the Son of God and the Son of man. Jesus is walking by him, and John, seeing him pass by, he says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
He doesn’t say, “Behold, the Messiah.” He doesn’t say, “Behold, the Son of God.” He says, “Behold, the Lamb of God.”
Lambs are very important to a shepherded people and, of course, we think of the lamb most of all when Jesus says that he is the shepherd and the lambs hear his voice and follow him.
But this is not what John has in mind. What John has in mind is something much deeper, something much more important.
He is telling his disciples that this is the sacrificial lamb, offered at the time when the people were under the slavery of Egypt. And the lamb was offered that terrible night and his blood was placed upon the doorposts of all the children of Israel and the lamb became the sacrifice by which all of them were freed.
This is the lamb who is the sacrificial lamb. This is the Messiah who does not come with great armies. This is the Messiah who comes to us as a sacrificial lamb and, as John says, who offers his whole life that sins might be forgiven.
The word “sin” is very much used. Do you know “sin,” that word doesn’t exist in any language except in Hebrew. It’s a gift of the Jewish people who recognise something very important when it is used.
We think of sin as somebody who offends the Ten Commandments. It’s not that. We think of sin as something terrible that other people fall into and very seldom do we ourselves sin because we think sin is a series of activities against laws. And it is true. If you break a law, you break a commandment. And if you break a commandment, the commandment is the law of God and therefore you have sinned.
But that’s not what sin means. Sin is a very interesting word and what it does mean is you have failed to love. God has given you His love and you turn your back on Him. God has given you Jesus and he becomes a lamb led to the slaughter to show you the depth of God’s love and to make you understand when we say, “I have sinned,” we have not broken a commandment, we have broken a promise, we have broken a person, we have nailed him to the cross.
For sin is a failure to care and a failure to love. It is not something that you just say, “Well, I broke the sixth commandment or the fifth commandment or the tenth commandment,” because when you sin you break a heart, not only the heart of Jesus, but the heart of the person that you have sinned against.
And this is why it’s such an important word. For when Jesus enters the waters, becomes one with us, walks with us through life, feeling the things we feel, hoping the things we hope, every bit a human being, when he does this, he is coming so that he might take away all sin. For if sin is a sin against the love of God, Jesus redeems us by his great love, not only for God his Father, but for all of us.
And it is in the loving of Jesus that we are forgiven, because he never held it against us, he never went away and hid and waited for an apology. Sometimes we think a confessional is where your sins are forgiven. It begins in the heart of Jesus. And there was no sin that Jesus himself did not immediately forgive because his love was so great.
And so when you go to confession, you come in contact, not with the judgment of God and being forgiven, you come to understand that, when Jesus offered himself on the cross for all mankind in the greatest love that a God made man could offer his Father, that all was forgiven to all for all.
This is the message that the gospel teaches us and this is the message we often forget. But to remember that when we sin against each other, it’s not a breaking of a rule, a regulation, a law, although it is that — it is the breaking of another person’s heart. And then we will realise that Jesus came only to love. He himself has said, “I have not come to judge. I have not come to judge but only to teach you how to love.”
Dostoyevsky is probably, at least in my understanding is, the best novel writer that the world has ever known in any language. But one of his favourite and best books is, “The Brothers Karamazov” about three brothers. And the third brother was Father Zosima’s favourite, Alyosha. And Alyosha is sort of the saintly brother.
The book is very long. In fact, it’s so long that I used to sneak it into my classes when I was supposed to be studying something else, put it on my knee and read the story of the brothers Karamazov.
And why would I do that? Well, I’ll tell you. Because novels touch the heart and it’s all about the heart. And Dostoyevsky was one of the greatest.
Now I will tell you, at the very beginning, in the first chapter, Father Zosima, this sacred, sacred Russian priest and mystic, was dying, and Alyosha was by him and waiting for his final words. What is the holy man going to say at the end of his life?
And he looks into Alyosha’s eyes, and he loves Alyosha, and he says to Alyosha, “All are responsible to all for all.” All of us are responsible to each other for everything.
He didn’t tell Alyosha to love. He told him to remember that you must become responsible for people and that is the only love that is acceptable for God: to take responsibility, to respond to their needs, to respond to others, to respond in times that everybody else gives them up, you will come and offer yourselves to be with them, to care for them.
And this is what Jesus wants and this is what Jesus was teaching us by his own life and death: that we are responsible for everything.
Father Zosima uses an example. He says if you take a little pebble and you’re standing by the side of a limpid pool and you throw that pebble into the centre of the pool, the waves that that stone begins, as it sinks into the pool, the waves reach further and further and further until they reach the end of the pool itself.
This is a very important concept because it means, as Zosima says to Alyosha, “Everything you say, everything you do, everything you think is not yours alone. It’s throwing pebbles into a pool and they form their rings and have their effect until the very end of the pool is finished.”
Jesus tells us today that he is the Lamb of God. It means… Of course he is the shepherd and we are the lambs. And that’s what it means: that we too become the Lamb of God. We become the sons and daughters of God or, as it says in the readings today, the children of God.
And that means that our lives have been changed, for there’s no such thing as a lack of forgiveness in understanding God. God is only understood by love, and that is why the theologians teach us to sin is not to do something, it is to fail to do something.
And the one thing that God calls us, each day, and we live with Jesus who teaches us how, each day, the one thing is that there is only love and, if we sin, we take ourselves out of the one thing that is necessary for our heart and our soul and our lives, which is the fullness of God’s love, flowing through us and to each other.
This is why Jesus came and this is why today we say with great gratitude, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world and everything that stands between us and the love of a loving Father who has given us Jesus to show the way and, as mentioned in the gospel today, fills us with His Holy Spirit.”