Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sacrifice and love

For my freshman year in college, I borrowed the tuition money from my father.  About ten years' later, he called and requested that I repay him as soon as possible.  At the time, this was  difficult for me financially with two small children and a third on the way.  I paid him the money as he requested. But, it didn't sit well with me and I didn't talk to him for over a year. 
Eventually, my wife told me that I needed to forgive him.  She said that my unforgiveness was hurting me.  So, I swallowed my pride and called him and patched things up.
Many years later, when he was moved into a retirement home, he asked me to handle his finances.  As I reviewed his finances, I realized that his only income was from social security.  In fact, for many years, the three of them, my mother, father, and sister were living on his meager social security income.  Then, I felt guilty that I was so upset at having to pay back my loan many years earlier.  If I had known how little money they had, I would have willingly helped them out. 
In today's Gospel, John the Baptist said: "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."  This is the first time in the Gospels that Christ is called the “Lamb of God”.    Also, John the Evangelist used this title twenty-nine times in the Book of Revelation.  This image of a sacrificial lamb would have been familiar to the Jews of the time. 
The primary holy day for Jews is the Passover.  In the Passover ceremony, each family sacrifices and eats a lamb to recall the night when the firstborn sons were spared from the angel of death by putting the blood of the lamb on their doorposts. The Passover lamb signifies God's merciful and saving love.  The prophets described the Messiah as a lamb who went silently to the slaughter, to take the sins of his people upon himself and wipe them away.   
The book of Revelation reveals to us that Jesus is victorious and glorious in heaven as the slain lamb, surrounded by saints, martyrs and virgins, who render him the praise and glory due him as God. Before distributing Holy Communion the priest says "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world".  This encourages us to be grateful to our Lord for sacrificing for us.
Today, not too many people describe themselves or those they admire as lambs.  They are more likely to be described as lions.  We don't often think of sacrificing for others.  When my dad asked me for money, I wasn't thinking about sacrificing for him  but of taking care of my needs.
When I hear the word 'lamb' outside of the context of mass, I think of a meek animal and sacrifice.  Normally, you wouldn't associate either weak or sacrifice with God.  You would expect God to be called a lion instead of being referred to as a lamb.
Referring to Jesus as the "Lamb of God" in the first appearance of his public life foretold what was to come- His sacrifice on the cross.  And it also provides an example for us to follow in our relationships.  We are meant to relate to each other as lambs, not as lions.  We are meant to love each other with a sacrificial love, not a love which possesses or dominates another. 
We see examples of sacrifice all around us.  We see the sacrifices of mothers and fathers as they raise their children.  We see the sacrifices of soldiers and police and fire personnel as they put their lives on the line for us.  And we see the sacrifices of priests and religious who choose a chaste life to serve God and His church.
Sacrificing is hard.  It is natural to put ourselves first and hard to put someone else first.  And yet, that is what we are asked to do.  True, lasting love requires sacrifice.  Jesus showed us the way and encourages us daily to follow him. 
Today, as the priest raises the host and says the words : "Behold the Lamb of God" ponder the humility and sacrifice of Jesus in becoming man and then submitting to be crucified.  Then, in the spirit of Jesus as the Lamb of God, sacrifice in some small way today for someone you love.