God Who Calls

Fr. Jijo Kandamkulathy CMF
Claretian Publications, Macau


Jn 1:29-34

In today’s gospel, seeing Jesus coming towards him, John exclaims: “Behold the lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sin of the world” (v. 29). Why does he define him with so singular an image? There was never a person in the Old Testament called “lamb of God.” The expression marks the culmination of his long and arduous spiritual journey. It started, in fact, from complete ignorance. “I did not know him,” he exclaims twice (vv. 31, 33).

Educated probably among the Essene monks of Qumran, John had assimilated the spirituality of his people. He knew the history and was familiar with the Scriptures. His allusion to the paschal lamb – whose blood placed on the doorposts of the houses in Egypt had saved their forebears from the slaughter of the Exterminating Angel – foreshadows the fate of Jesus. One day he would be sacrificed like a lamb. John the Evangelist has certainly wanted to draw this same symbolism: It was, in fact, the hour in which, in the temple, the priest began to sacrifice the lambs.

There is a second reference to the lamb of God in the book of Isaiah, and every Israelite knew it very well—the Servant of the Lord, also mentioned in today’s first reading. Here’s how the prophet describes his move towards death: “He was led like a lamb to the slaughter…he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors” (Is 53:7, 12). John applies the imagery to Jesus.

The Baptist has in mind a third biblical call: the lamb is also associated with the sacrifice of Abraham. Isaac, while walking alongside his father to Mount Moriah, asks: “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” Abraham replies: “God himself will provide the lamb” (Gen 22:7-8).

“Behold the Lamb of God!” the Baptist now answers. It is Jesus, given by God to the world to be sacrificed instead of the sinful man deserving punishment. Like Isaac, he is the only son, the beloved, the one who brings the wood to the place of sacrifice. Jesus, like Isaac, also freely gave his life for love.

At this point, one wonders if indeed the Baptist had in mind all these biblical references when on two occasions, turning to Jesus, he declared: “Behold the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:29, 36). Perhaps not, but certainly, John the Evangelist had them in mind. He wanted to offer a catechesis to the Christians of his communities and to us.

In the second part of the passage (vv. 32-34), the testimony of John the Baptist is presented. He recognizes as “Son of God” the one on whom he saw the Spirit descended and remained. The reference is to the baptism scene narrated by the synoptic Gospels (Mk 1:9-11). John introduces, however, a significant detail: the Spirit is not just seen descending upon Jesus but remaining in him.

Through Jesus, the Spirit came into the world. No opposing force will drive or overcome him and from him, the Spirit will be poured out on each person. It is the baptism “in the Holy Spirit” announced by John the Baptist (v. 33).

It is this message of hope and joy that through the Baptist, John, from the very first page of his gospel, wants to announce to the disciples. Despite the apparent overwhelming power of evil in the world, what awaits humanity is the communion of life “with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” These things—John says—I write “so that our joy may be complete” (1 Jn 1:3-4).

Indebted to Fr. Armellini SCJ for the textual analysis