The Isenheim Altarpiece, Grünewald 1515, Unterlinden Museum, Colmar, France.
…as [John the Baptist] watched Jesus walk by, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” John 1:35.
Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.
The incredible, stunning Grünewald painting above shows the Savior taking his last agonized breath on the cross, with John the Baptist, who of course was not present, pointing towards him, and the Lamb of God below, transferring today’s gospel to the end of Jesus’ life. It is the completion of the Baptist’s insight, in the opening chapter of his namesake’s gospel, when he laid eyes on Jesus. Here was the innocent, sacrificial Lamb who would be offered for our sins on the cross at the fulfillment of his mission. It is the parallel of the original Passover event, when the blood of a sacrificed lamb “without blemish” was applied to the doorposts of the enslaved Hebrew homes as the angel of death flew over Egypt but “passed over” their homes, and their first-born sons did not die. As a consequence, the Hebrew people were released from slavery that night. They had also been instructed by God to consume the sacrificed lamb that Passover night to strengthen them for the journey to the Promised Land, the origin of the Passover Supper. So the blood of the lamb saved them (Exodus 12:1-14). For us Christians, it is the sacrificed Lamb of God who releases us from slavery to sin, nourishes us for our journey towards life eternal, our Promised Land, as we are reminded at every Mass just before Communion.
Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”) Plaque, 14th Century Catalan, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, USA.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us/grant us peace.
When you catch sight of lambs early in their lives, they are running and jumping and leaping around, apparently giddy with delight and innocence and life itself. Perhaps that is the key to understanding the other readings today. The young man Samuel is innocent of the fact that God is calling him until the High Priest Eli realized it was God calling him and told him how to respond. The second reading, telling us to treat our bodies with respect, calls us to innocence there. Applying that reading to our own time, it clearly means that we must not damage what St. Paul calls the temple of the Holy Spirit. Hence tobacco, illegal drugs, even careless eating habits leading to health-endangering obesity, could all reasonably be considered destructive to ourselves, and so going against God’s will for each of us. Responding positively to that call is very like today’s gospel, where Jesus invites Andrew and another disciple to “come and see” where he is staying and they spend the day with him, changing their lives forever, having seen and experienced the Lamb of God, innocent and pure. And at that point Andrew rushes, lamb-like, to his brother Simon Peter to declare “We have found the Messiah”, the beginning of Christian missionary proclamation, the overwhelming desire to share the Good News with whoever will listen. And don’t you agree that that is a suitable keynote to a new “ordinary time” in the Church’s year?
The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew, Caravaggio 1603, Hampton Court Palace, London, UK.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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