In the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke, we hear that the infant John leapt in the womb of his mother Elizabeth on the approach of the infant Jesus carried in the womb of his mother, the Virgin Mary. Today, in the first chapter of the Gospel of John, when the adult John sees Jesus coming towards him, he leaps in his very proclamation that Jesus is the Lamb of God – the one sent to take away the sins of the world!
It is easy to imagine that the scene contained just John and Jesus but Scripture tells us otherwise. Many people, we are told, were going out to see John – this man who was proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was at hand and that the Messiah was coming. Many people were heeding the message of John to repent of their sins and to be baptized in preparation for the Messiah’s coming. And it is in the very midst of this crowd of people who were aware of their sins and wanting to repent that Jesus appears on the riverbank of Jordan.
This had to have been disconcerting for John who was proclaiming a Messiah who would baptize not with water but rather fire and the Holy Spirit – the appearance of a humble messiah willing to be in the midst of sinners. But the Holy Spirit who came upon Jesus during his baptism in the Jordan also enlightens the understanding of John that the true Messiah and King of Israel would not accomplish God’s will by the power of this world but by being the humble Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. God will bring about his Kingdom by His fire and His Holy Spirit and in His way. John was gifted to be led into this understanding just as our Lord began his public ministry.
And John points him out. Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world … Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God. The proclamation of John is the mission of the Church. The Church is to do what John did – point Jesus out and say, “He is the Savior! Yes, humble. Yes, ever willing to be in the midst of sinners, but he alone is the Savior.” At every Mass we repeat the words of John when the priest holds up the Eucharist and proclaims, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world!” By saying these words, we also remind ourselves who we are to be as Church.
Pope Francis wisely reminds us in many of his writings that the Church must never proclaim herself but rather always proclaim Christ. That the Church must never bring herself but rather always bring Christ – because it is Christ alone who frees people from their sins. It is Jesus who is the Lamb of God and we, as Church, proclaim him to the world!
Today, in a special way, we pray for the repose of the soul of Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Benedict was a man who knew the same truth that John knew and who lived his life and found his fullest calling in pointing to Jesus, the Lamb of God, and calling people to the truth of Christ.
I think it also worthwhile today to pray for the repose of the soul of Monsignor Bill Gahagan – a former pastor of St. Dominic Church and beloved priest of our diocese. People who knew Monsignor Gahagan know that he was a man caught up in the love of God and a man who easily found his Lord present in the midst of his people. Monsignor Bill would count himself blessed to be in the midst of the crowd along the bank of the river Jordan standing beside his Lord and Savior.
For people of faith there is sorrow in the death of a loved one but there is also a deep joy knowing that the dearly departed now fully beholds the face of their Lord.
May these men and all the faithful departed rest in peace.