Fr Ethelbert Anarado
A few months ago, in a casual conversation with some Catholic College students, a question arose on why Jesus is referred to as ‘the Lamb of God’. We find out that John the Baptist’s tributary designation of Jesus as ‘the Lamb of God’ is largely misunderstood by many Christians including a lot of Catholics. Some of the students in a devotional pious answer to the question said: ‘Well, Jesus is the gentle, meek, humble servant of God and is just like the lamb”.
The truth is that it has little to do with Jesus’ meekness, gentleness, or humility (even though Jesus had all of that) and everything to do with his being the victim of a sacrifice. And so, in this reflection, we would explore what this title which we use daily at Mass before the reception of Holy Communion means.
For the First Century Jews, the term ‘the Lamb of God’ has to do with temple sacrifice. The background to this is that many ancient peoples offered a lot of sacrifices. Indeed, the idea of sacrifice runs like a golden thread throughout the Old Testament and the ancient peoples. For example, among the various kinds of sacrifices and offering were sin, peace, communion, burnt, grain, and trespass offerings. Every day in those days, priests and Levites had to sacrifice thousands of lambs (usually one-year-old) in the Jerusalem temple.
The people believed that in offering these many sacrifices, they themselves get remissions of their sins and attracted God’s goodness upon the people. Furthermore, there is a belief that some aspects of God’s creations were returned to God as a sign of one’s union and building a relationship with God.
Some people described Jerusalem temple and its precincts as places filled with aroma of barbecue and slaughter-house because of the number of animals slaughtered there on daily basis. Every morning and every evening lambs were sacrificed in the Temple for the sins of the people (Exodus 29:38-42). William Barclay informs us that ‘So long as the Temple stood this daily sacrifice was made.
Even when the people were starving in war and in siege they never omitted to offer the lamb until in A.D. 70 when the Temple was destroyed’ (William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible John 1). However, the truth is that none of these many sacrifices was able to definitively deal with the sins of humanity.
The flaw was so deep and could not be removed. And so, something greater is needed in order to effect the remission of sin of humanity: Jesus, the Eternal Son of the Father! John was therefore saying: ‘In the Temple, a lamb is offered every night and every morning for the sins of the people; but in this Jesus is the only sacrifice which can deliver humanity from sin.’
John was saying that Jesus was to be the one who would offer to God the Father the one true and living sacrifice, the one who would reconcile God with humanity.
This Jesus would offer to the Father the one sacrifice that would take away the sins of the world. Jesus was destined to be the One sacrificed as a ‘sin offering’ to God the Father for the salvation of humanity.
The precise nature of Jesus’ sacrifice is that He willingly offered Himself to the Father the only efficient and perfect sacrifice that has dealt with sin.
So, when next time you attend Mass or hear the phrase as ‘the Lamb of God’, bear this in mind. At each of the Masses celebrated daily, all over the world, that same sacrifice offered by Our Lord Jesus on the cross of Calvary two thousand years ago is reenacted–whereby Jesus is both the Priest and the Victim of the sacrifice. The Holy mass is a perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and in this Sacrament of love is the source and summit of all Christian life (‘Lumen Gentium, 11’ in Documents of Vatican 11).