Today we begin what the liturgical calendar describes as Tempus Per Annum which, literally translated, means Time Through The Year. In other words, the time of the year which is not taken up with some special celebration like Advent, Lent, or Easter.
The English rendering of Tempus per Annum is simply Ordinary Time and can be a bit misleading, as though it were somehow less important, or as though there were less happening, than at other times of the year. Of course this is not so. Ordinary Time is like all the other seasons of the Church’s liturgical calendar – it is a time for getting to know Jesus, and for drawing closer to him.
Getting to know Jesus is like getting to know someone you discover, bit by bit, is going to become a good friend, maybe a best friend. The only difference is that Jesus never disappoints us, he just keeps getting better and better, and our love for him grows and grows, the more we come to know his love for us. (This can be challenging because Jesus’ love does not always involve having ‘good feelings’.)
Getting to know Jesus is terribly important. It is by drawing close to him, observing him, listening to the things he says, watching how others react to him, and how he reacts to those who oppose him, that we learn to love him.
When we find ourselves having to admit to this love we begin ourselves to respond, to follow him as disciples, and live his commandments. When all is said and done the Christian life is nothing more than our response to the goodness of God who loves us with an almost embarrassing lack of restraint.
Well, let’s look at the Gospel, noting that Isaiah (1st Reading) and St Paul (2nd Reading) also speak to us about the Lord, leading us further into the mystery of who he is and why he came to us.
John sees Jesus approaching – Jesus the Lord of the universe. To what, on this earth, can he be likened – how shall we describe him? John raises his finger and points: Look … the lamb of God …!
How curious! John calls Jesus – the lamb.
And he tells us a lot more about him:
He is the Lamb of God.
He will take away the sins of the world.
He is a man.
He comes after me but ranks before me.
He existed before me.
He is to be revealed to Israel.
The Spirit came down on him – resting on him.
He is going to baptize with the Holy Spirit.
He is the Chosen One of God.
Each one of these expressions could be the subject of much reflection. Let’s just look at this single phrase Lamb of God a little more closely.
Did you know that in the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, Jesus is referred to 28 times as the lamb? Here is one example: Then I heard all the living things in creation – everything that lives in the air, and on the ground, and under the ground, and in the sea, crying, ‘To the One who is sitting on the throne and to the Lamb, be all praise, honor, glory and power, for ever and ever’. (Rev 5:13)
The first time the word is used with some deeper significance is in Genesis 22:7-8 when Abraham is taking Isaac his son out to offer him in sacrifice to God. Isaac doesn’t know yet that he is to be the sacrifice and naively he says to his father: Look, here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?
Abraham answered, ‘My son, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering’…
Without realizing it both father and son were speaking in prophecy. The question Where is the lamb? Has been the desolate cry of sin-stricken humanity ever since the disobedience of Adam and Eve – and the answer of Abraham, God himself will provide the lamb, reveals both our incapacity to find fitting sacrifice and God’s loving desire to come to our rescue.
Once we become aware of the fact that Jesus is the lamb of God we begin to reread the Old Testament with an entirely new alertness and each time a lamb is mentioned, in whatever context it appears, we find ourselves asking: Could this be an image of our Savior?
The Passover lamb, still offered each year by Jews today, is a clear figure of the perfect Lamb who was to save us from all that would enslave us. As the blood of this lamb sprinkled on the doorposts saved the Hebrews from the angel of death and slavery in Egypt, so the blood of the true lamb, Jesus Christ, saves us from slavery to sin and eternal estrangement from God.
And there are other ways in which Jesus is like a lamb. Yes, our Jesus, our Lord and Master, came among us like a gentle lamb.
At the end of his life he fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecy, like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. That’s how he went to the Cross – without complaining – without anger and hatred – but always gentle, loving, and above all, innocent.
Listen to his beautiful words Jesus said on the way to die:
To the women on his way to the Cross – ‘Weep not for me …’
To those who sought his crucifixion – ‘Father, forgive them …’
To the thief crucified beside him – ‘This day you will be with me in paradise …’
As St Peter says in 1Peter 1:18-19: Remember, the ransom that was paid to free you from the useless way of life your ancestors handed down was not paid in anything corruptible, neither in silver nor gold, but in the precious blood of a lamb without spot or stain, namely Christ …