15 January [2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time]
John saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, "Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, 'After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.' I myself did not know him; but I came baptising with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel." And John testified, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptise with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptises with the Holy Spirit.' And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God."
A little further on the account says, "The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, 'Look, here is the Lamb of God!' The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus" (1:38). There is reason to believe that John the Evangelist was one of those two disciples. The account has the flavour of a personal memory. You even feel their embarrassment. "When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, 'What are you looking for?' They said to him, 'Rabbi' (which translated means Teacher), 'where are you staying?' He said to them, "Come and see." They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon."
That phrase 'Lamb of God' must have stayed in John's imagination: it runs through his gospel from beginning to end. It even appears in the book of Revelation (also written by John or his disciples). That first impression never faded.
The phrase 'Lamb of God' was not new; it was a reference to the Passover lamb, the lamb in Exodus which was slain and whose blood set the people free from slavery in Egypt. Every year at Passover the Jews recalled this event, and a lamb was slaughtered in the Temple. Here in Jesus, says John the Baptist, we have the real "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." This phrase also echoed Isaiah's prophecy about the Suffering Servant: "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter" (53:5).
In John's gospel this theme is expertly woven into the story. The ancient instructions for killing and eating the Passover lamb said, "You must not break any bone of it" (Exodus 12:46). And so, John says, the soldiers did not break Jesus' legs as he hung on the Cross but pierced him instead with a lance. Later, near the end of the century, in John's apocalyptic vision he saw "between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered" (Revelation 5:6) - that is, dead and raised up again.
It is an interesting experiment to try to see Jesus through the eyes of these two men named John - the Baptist and the Evangelist. Our own eyes become so tired and dull. John the evangelist was a young man when he met Jesus; he lived into extreme old age, but in his mind the memory of Jesus never dimmed.
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