Thursday, January 16, 2020

What's Up with the Lamb? (Reflections on Epiphany 2, Year A)

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“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)

Don’t you love those dollar stores? I was in my local “everything-for-a-buck” place the other day to buy some thank-you notes. The cashier was this young guy named Haim[i] who, I noticed, had a whole passage from the Book of Proverbs tattooed on his left forearm. He seemed a nice enough kid. Noticing my clergy collar, he asked if I were a priest. I told him I was and, as there was no one in line behind me, we got to talking for a bit. Haim told me that he was recently in recovery from an addiction to drugs (I’m guessing opioids). He said that both of his parents were first generation Americans. His dad was Jewish and his mom was Roman Catholic.

“Neither community accepted me,” Haim said. “But Jesus accepts me.”

As long as his faith in Christ keeps him clean and sober I won’t quibble about where he worships. I’m thinking he probably belongs to some evangelical non-denominational church of which there are many in my community. I wished him well and said I’d pray for his  recovery, but I could’ve kicked myself as I got into my car and thought that I’d missed an opportunity to invite Haim to worship with my congregation.

“Jesus accepts me.” That kind of says it all, doesn’t it? In the gospel lesson appointed for Epiphany 2, Year A (John 1:29-42), two of John the Baptist’s disciples—Andrew and an unnamed seeker—inquire of Jesus where he hangs out. I guess they asked him that to see if he was a local guy, or maybe it was just a way to start a conversation with someone who just might turn out to be the Messiah. Jesus (who rarely gives a straight answer to any question he’s asked in the Fourth Gospel) answers them with “Come and see.” This is a pretty cool invitation. It’s about 4 pm, so it’s possible he invites the boys to stay for supper. We’re told they remained with him that day. Maybe they spent the night. That’s pretty accepting of people you just met!

Andrew, of course, was looking for Jesus because John the Baptist had pointed Jesus out as the Lamb of God. And that’s John’s job—to point the way to Jesus. I’d like to think that’s the only job any of us really has. Well, maybe we have two jobs—both of which are illustrated in this gospel selection: we are to follow Jesus and to point others to him.

So what are these lads looking for? John has told them that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We probably think of this as an atoning sacrifice. That is, a lamb was given to pay for a fault. I was surprised to find out, however, that lambs weren’t used as sacrifices for sin in Jesus’ day. If you wronged someone back then, they handled it pretty much the same way we do now. You went to court and paid your fine or took whatever punishment the law prescribed. A “sin offering” was actually a sacrifice made to cleanse the temple should some poor schmo wander in without having observed one of the billion and one purity laws they had in those days. Lambs were not offered as sin offerings. For an impure temple you needed to sacrifice some beef. Why? Beats me, but those were the rules.

When John calls Jesus the “Lamb of God,” he’s actually making a reference to the Passover Lamb, that poor critter that got eaten the night before God freed the captive Israelites from bondage in Egypt. The blood of the lamb was the blood of rescue, of liberation. It’s not just paying the price of having done wrong, because we’ll all pay for our mistakes one way or another, right? We pay the cost of sin in guilt, or in broken relationships, or in physical ailments, or even in legal punishment.

The Lamb isn’t here to bail us out of the earthly consequences of our sin, and he’s not just a “Get-Out-of-Hell-Free” card. No. Instead, he is here to change us. He is here to be our way out of slavery and bondage and guide us through the wilderness of our circumstances into something that God would have us be. For someone like Haim, it’s a radical release from addiction to sober living. For someone else, it might be the radical knowledge that Jesus accepts us even if we haven’t proven ourselves to the satisfaction of the world’s standards. Jesus frees us from those false expectations. The blood of the Lamb should liberate us from resentment, regret, and disappointment and lead us into acceptance and thankfulness.

At the end of the day, we have only two jobs—seek Jesus and show Jesus. Everything else we do can be evaluated in light of these two tasks. If we’re okay with this, the opinion of the world doesn’t matter.

[i] Haim is a variation of Chayyim, the Hebrew word for “life.” Just thought you might be interested. It’s a popular Hebrew name.

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