A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday Liturgy
BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (# 8)
2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – January 16, 2005
“Behold, the Lamb of God!”
Is 49:3, 5-6 // I Cor 1:1-3 // Jn 1: 29-34
I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS
On August 30, 2003, I had an enjoyable experience at the Sacramento State Fair. At the livestock section, I saw, for the first time sheep and lambs at close range. When I was in Italy, I had seen shepherds tending their sheep, but only in passing, as our car traveled along country roads. Hence, that pleasant afternoon at the State Fair, my chink eyes were aglow with delight as I observed charming, huggable lambs in the stalls. My interest became even keener when I beheld sturdy-looking sheep being shorn expertly by proud animal tenders. What really impressed me was the gentleness and docility of the sheep as they submitted themselves to the deft hands of the sheepshearers. As each gentle sheep stood on the ground with its chin slightly elevated and resting on a bar, its beautiful eyes half-closed in total surrender, the atmosphere was of utter calmness and trust. The sheep being shorn were not even tied at all! Their submissiveness was totally in contrast with the feistiness of the rambunctious animals in my grandparents’ farm. As I thoughtfully gazed on the lovable sheep at the Sacramento State Fair, I remembered the words of the prophet Isaiah about the Servant of Yahweh, a sacrificial lamb offering: “Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth” (Is 53:7). Indeed, the prophetic passage also foretells John the Baptist’s messianic testimony: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29).
The Epiphany theme of the messianic revelation continues on this Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, a liturgical season focused on the pastoral ministry of Jesus to Israel and the entire people of God. The liturgical color of the Sundays through the year (per annum) is green, which symbolizes hope, a pervading tone throughout this longest season of the Church year. The green color of the Sundays in Ordinary Time (“ordinary” because the Sundays are in “ordinal” sequence) evokes the life-giving function of the Good Shepherd who leads the People of God to “meadows of green grass” and “restful waters”, through the various Sundays of the liturgical year. He nourishes us at the table of the Word and the Eucharist Sunday after Sunday, and thus revives our soul.
On this second Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Gospel account (Jn 1:29-34) puts us in contact again with the messianic Jesus, the central object of John the Baptist’s witnessing and the sole reason for his baptizing. The Gospel writer tells us that when John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him, the Baptist exclaimed: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me. I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel” (Jn 1:29-31).
With regards to the vital role of John the Baptist as the Messiah’s witness, Jean Danielou explains: “It is worth noticing that the synoptic gospels only speak of John as precursor. Saint John’s gospel alone portrays him as witness. This is due partly to the fact that John the Evangelist, former disciple of John the Baptist, preferred to complete rather than repeat the synoptic tradition; but partly also to the fact that the doctrine of witness is one of the most outstanding characteristics of John’s gospel … The whole impact of John’s testimony is the word Behold. That is to say, he affirms that the event he has been foretelling has now taken place. But if the one who came after him ranks before him, it is because he existed before him – here lies the whole force of John’s witness … To affirm that the one coming after him existed before him is to assert that this is the very one who sent him, the only one who existed before him, which is the same as saying that he is the Word of God by whom all things were made, now come to his own people. It is to point to Jesus as the one who existed before time began, and will come at the end of time as alpha and omega, the first and the last: first because he is the eternal Son of God, last because he is the eschatological coming of the eternal Son into time, into this world, to seek those who had gone astray.”
Jesus as the “Lamb of God” probably represents a primitive combination of two biblical images: the Suffering Servant who is led to slaughter like a lamb (cf. Is 53:7) and bear our sins (cf. Is 53:4), and the death of Jesus as the Passover lamb. The great Church Father, St. Cyril of Alexandria, gives us an excellent commentary: “John says: Behold the Lamb of God, of whom the prophet Isaiah told us in the words: He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and like a lamb before his shearer he opened not his mouth … Now the true lamb, the victim without blemish obscurely prefigured in former times, is led to slaughter for all to banish sin from the world, to overthrow the world’s destroyer, to abolish death by dying for the entire human race, and to release us from the curse: Dust you are and to dust you shall return. He will become the second Adam who is not of earth but of heaven, and will be for us the source of every blessing. He will deliver us from the corruptibility foreign to our nature; he will secure eternal life for us, reconcile us with God, teach us to revere God and to live upright lives, and be our way to the kingdom of heaven. Our Lamb died for all to restore the whole flock on earth to God the Father.”
John the Baptist completed his witnessing by declaring: “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God” (Jn 1:32-34). Indeed, the Paschal Lamb who is slain to take away the sin of the world is Jesus, the Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father. The Lamb of God – Servant of Yahweh – proved true his intimate filial relationship with God by fully submitting to the saving will, by his death on the Cross and rising to new life.
Finally, the baptismal event in which the Holy Spirit came down upon Jesus to anoint him for the messianic mission was the occasion when John the Baptist recognized Jesus as “the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit” (Jn 1:33). The Holy Spirit is the life-giving force of the Christ’s saving ministry and of our new life as children of God. The Holy Spirit is, moreover, the principle of our belonging to Christ. Indeed, the efficacy of the witnessing of John the Baptist and the Christian disciples depends on our openness to the Holy Spirit.
According to the authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 4: “Their testimony was transmitted to us in order that we, too, might believe, and recognize in Jesus the Son of God, and have life in him and through him. This testimony reaches us only if we let the Spirit act in us, because without the Spirit, no one can say, Jesus is Lord (I Cor 12:3). Without the Spirit, the Gospel remains a dead letter; reading it leaves us as we are: blind, deaf, mute. Lifeless. As it is impossible to make even one lump of dough, one loaf of bread, without mixing water with dry flour, we who were many could not become one with Christ Jesus without the water from heaven. And as the arid earth does not bear fruit without water, we who were only dry wood (cf. Lk 23:31) could never produce fruit without the generous rain from above (cf. Ps 68:10).”
The authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 4, conclude: “It is the Spirit who allowed John the Baptist to see the Son of God in the man walking along the banks of the Jordan. It is the Spirit who, today, allows the believers to recognize the Lord’s presence in the sacramental signs and his voice in the word proclaimed in the assembly. And it is the Spirit who validates the testimony of the Church when it announces the Savior to men and women of all races, tongues, and peoples.”
II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART
A. What does the witnessing of John the Baptist about Jesus as the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” and the “Son of God” mean to us personally and experientially? How does it affect our lives?
B. Like John the Baptist, are we also both precursors and witnesses of Christ? If yes, how?
C. Do we open up ourselves to the grace of the Holy Spirit, allowing him to anoint us for the messianic task of proclaiming the Gospel message centered on the saving work of Christ, the Lamb of God and the beloved Son of God?
III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD
Leader: Loving Father,
help us to be receptive to the grace of the Holy Spirit,
alive and at work in us.
Like John the Baptist,
may we be zealous precursors of Christ
and limpid witnesses of his sacrificial love.
Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God
who takes away the sin of the world.
He died for all peoples
to restore the whole flock on earth to you.
Strengthened by the power of the Spirit of Jesus,
may we be instruments of your Son’s compassion
in today’s suffering and fragmented world.
Like Jesus, your beloved Son-Servant,
may we live intimately in your love
and give ourselves devotedly in service to others,
promoting your Kingdom of justice, peace and love,
especially in death-dealing situations of injustice, violence and hatred.
Through him, with him, and in him,
we give you glory and praise,
now and forever.
IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD
The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.
“John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’.” (Jn 1:29)
V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION
A. ACTION PLAN: At the Eucharistic celebration, pray with devotion the prayer at the breaking of the bread: “Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world …” and resolve to carry out the pastoral-sacrificial mission of Christ on behalf of the people of Southern Asia devastated by the recent earthquake and tsunami calamity.
B. ACTION PLAN: To celebrate the compassionate divine love revealed in Jesus, the Lamb of God, and in view of a more meaningful Year of the Eucharist, make an effort to spend an hour in Eucharistic Adoration. Visit the PDDM WEB site (www.pddm.us) for the EUCHARISTIC ADORATION THROUGH THE LITURGICAL YEAR (# 8): a weekly Pastoral Tool for the Year of the Eucharist.
Prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret Tapang PDDM
PIAE DISCIPULAE DIVINI MAGISTRI
SISTER DISCIPLES OF THE DIVINE MASTER
60 Sunset Ave., Staten Island, NY 10314
Tel. (718) 494-8597 // (718) 761-2323