John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
He is the one of whom I said,
‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me
because he existed before me.’
I did not know him,
but the reason why I came baptizing with water
was that he might be made known to Israel.”
John testified further, saying,
“I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven
and remain upon him.
I did not know him,
but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me,
‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain,
he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’
Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”
Last week I was asked to fill in for a teacher who was supposed to teach a 6th grade faith formation class here in the parish. I agreed. The scheduled topic was the 10 Commandments. Not the easiest of topics for children to really understand. So my job was to prepare a lesson on sin that could easily be understood by 11 and 12 year olds while at the same time not diminishing the importance or the impact of sin. Folks have distinct reactions when the topic of sin arises. Oftentimes people claim that what might be considered a sin by some isn’t really sin and vice versa. So charged with making a presentation to this 6th grade class, I prepared a few talking points. Once the class got underway, I was so pleased to see that these kids had a genuine thirst to discuss their faith. By the time we hit the 5th commandment, I had an “ah-ha” moment that hasn’t left since. And as I’m sure god had planned all along, it relates directly to today’s scripture passage.
From this morning’s gospel we heard, “John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.’”
Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This one line is as familiar to Catholics as the word “Amen”. But truly, what does it mean? An understanding that came to me while I was teaching this faith formation class was the following.
I asked one of the students to read aloud the 5th commandment, Thou shall not kill. Then in jest I asked, “Has anyone here ever killed anyone?” Immediately, the hands of the boys in the class shot up. I then rephrased my question, “Has anyone here ever killed someone …not including video games?” The boys dropped their hands. As I stared at the faces of the children, it struck me; limiting the scope of this commandment to not taking life is only part of the meaning. We are called to also preserve life in all its forms. This extends well beyond the hot button issues of abortion and capital punishment.
Thou shall not kill also means that we feed those who have no food; lest they die of starvation. It means that we provide shelter for those who have none because they might perish. It means that we provide medical care to those who need it most for simple reason that it is the right thing to do.
Time and again throughout scripture, Jesus compels those around him to care for the poor, the needy, the sick. The gospels are full of the many miracles that Jesus performed on those who needed help the most. The poor and those who found themselves suffering always received the special attention. Additionally, our faith tells us that the presence of Christ resides in each of us. Through our baptism and the subsequent receiving of the sacraments, we continually nourish that presence. Through prayer, we seek out the direction and wisdom of Christ presence within us. When we choose to do good, when we choose compassion, when we choose to love, that presence of Christ within us comes fully alive.
My “ah-ha” moment? Jesus, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. This is not an action that takes place far away from a person we can’t see. No. Jesus taking away the sins of the world is our directive, our mission, our responsibility.
When the world dehumanizes people by casting them aside, when the world chooses to hate and promote bigotry, when the world deems some lives are not worth saving, the world sins. But, when we choose to act out of mercy, charity, and compassion. When we choose to love, we answer the call of Christ within us and work in concert with him to take away the many sins of the world. We have this obligation.
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Fr. Sam will say these words when he presents to us the body and blood of Christ. He means not only the Eucharistic bread and wine but also all of us who will receive them.