So I want you to think of a carpenter, a guy carpenter. I know at least fifty carpenters and general contractors, so surely you know a few as well. You can picture them, right? Masters of the math of construction, and probably stronger than most. Pulling up in their pickup with the ladder rack or their van or box truck, ready to destroy whatever is wrong and build it back right. How many of them have the nickname Lamb?
When I think of lamb, the first think I think is mmmm delicious. Like a good MLT, mutton, lettuce, and tomato sandwich, when the mutton is nice and lean. I had lamb on Thursday at a Turkish joint, gyro lamb over rice with a nice yogurt sauce. Mmmm delicious.
I’ve often wondered how Jesus reacted when John the Baptist started pointing at Him and yelling, “Behold, the Lamb of God! Look! The Lamb!” Being a carpenter, a general contractor, really, one who had likely eaten His share of lamb, I could imagine Jesus being like “I’ll show you lamb”, or maybe even “Mmmm, delicious.”
Being called a lamb is not usually thought of as a compliment, I guess. Lambs are small and fluffy and prone to wandering off in all directions. They take orders from sheepdogs and are easily picked off by, well, any predator. And they are, as we have already mentioned, known to be delicious. The highest honor any lamb could hope for was to end up a Temple sacrifice.
Aha! There it is. The sacrifice. Jesus and John the Baptist lived in a society in which the word lamb automatically carried the connotation of sacrifice. Jesus likely heard John yelling it and just thought “Yeah, I know.”
And yet, despite it being a great metaphor, Jesus never referred to Himself as the Lamb of God. A shepherd, sure, even THE Good Shepherd, but not the lamb. The Baptist called Jesus the Lamb of God twice in two days, but then “the next time we run across that image (is) in the Book of Revelation, (when) we are told that the lamb John (the Evangelist) saw in his heavenly vision was not just any old lamb: this one was a lamb “that had been slain.” A dead lamb walking—that’s what John saw. It is also what John the Baptist” saw and called out in today’s Gospel.
So it’s no wonder, really, that it was only John the Baptist who had the guts to call Jesus the Lamb of God, at least to His face. And yet now, much like most Christians for the last 2000 years, we call Jesus that all the time. We say Lamb of God at least four times at every Mass: three times during the Agnus Dei, once at the Ecce Agnus Dei (Behold the Lamb of God; behold him to taketh away the sin of the world), and then more times if we insert the phrase in antiphons and the such. Lamb imagery is all over this church and most others, especially in stained glass. There’s even a lamb, an Agnus Dei, in our parish logo (check out the back of the bulletin).
So there must be something incredibly compelling about all this, something so compelling about the thought of a sinless man in a sinful world, lamb-like in His innocence, yet containing the strength, the courage, and the will to lay Himself down as a sacrifice for us, for you and me.
There’s something so compelling, and yet so humbling, about God coming among us not to conquer us (or to conquer our enemies), but to save us, to save us from the enemy, which is all too often ourselves and our own flirtation with eternal death.
So I guess what calling out Jesus so often as the Lamb of God teaches us is that we, despite our best efforts, are not the Lamb of God. Jesus has done something for us that we could not, in any way, do for ourselves, which is the reconciliation with God we so longed for. We no longer need to feel like God is far away, foreign to us, because through Jesus, we are part of the substance of God. I can’t think of anything better than that, even a good MLT, mutton, lettuce, and tomato sandwich, when the mutton is nice and lean…….