Commentary to the 2nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - YEAR B
The next day John was there again with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.”
A good Sunday for everyone.
Today's gospel passage begins with a time indication "The next day." Spontaneously we wonder what happened the day before. The Baptist was still on stage and it seems that he was alone, there doesn't seem to have anyone at his side. "Seeing Jesus pass by, he says: Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He was not addressing anyone in particular because it seems that only he and Jesus were present. And, therefore, it is as if the Baptist was reflecting with himself about the discovery he made of the identity of that person approaching him. He understood his identity and said 'he is the Lamb of God'.
The Baptist, who knew the Scriptures, had many other images available to tell of his discovery of the Messiah. He could have said: 'the shepherd', 'the teacher', 'the king', 'the rabbi' and also 'the strict judge.' He had spoken of the Messiah as the one who has the winnowing fan in his hand and comes to cleanse his people.
Now he captures the identity of Jesus with the image of the lamb. How did he get this inner illumination? Certain illuminations can only be captured by those who live in recollection, in reflection, in silence, in prayer and the Baptist was not the type that was lost behind the triviality, about the temporary, the fashions and the design clothes... He had other very serious things on his mind.
He had lived in the expectation, like all his people, of a change in the world what would happen when God sends the son of David, the Messiah; the people expected a strong warrior, a winner, one that would defeat the Romans. But the Baptist does not discover the lion that comes to crush the evil beasts in the world; he understands the identity of the Messiah as the Lamb. This is the day before.
The day after the scene is repeated and John this time is not alone, he has two disciples with him. John, looking at Jesus coming towards him exclaims: "Behold the Lamb of God." Here is a detail that should be noted. When it is said that the Baptist saw Jesus, the verb 'blepo' is not used but ?μβλ?ψας = 'emblempas' which means the inner look, looking inside, the intimacy, the depth of the person.
And this verb is so important that it is only used twice and we will hear it these two times in today's Gospel passage, then it is no longer used by the evangelist John. That's why this look of the Baptist that helps him see the inside is important. The outward appearance of Jesus has been seen by everyone, they knew him, they had met him. They had realized he was an exquisite, pleasant and kind person but they had not seen inside.
Exactly what happens even today with so many people listening to the Gospel. But what do they see in Jesus? That he is a wise man, a good man, a just man, but is that all? This is also the question we must ask ourselves: What do we see in Jesus? Do we see his true identity inside or do we stop at the outer appearance... the miracle worker?
Let's ask ourselves and keep in mind that it takes time to understand this identity that the Baptist discovered. He is the Lamb and what does it mean to follow a Lamb? It takes time. Let us note that the day before when the Baptist saw Jesus, he began to understand that he was the Lamb of God. But it is only the day after he has seen inside and that he has communicated also to his disciples: "It is he.... The Lamb of God." And, therefore, the Baptist now becomes an announcer of the discovery he has made because he who discovers the true identity of Jesus and the answers that gives to the deepest questions that are in the heart of the person, cannot keep this discovery for himself, he feels the overwhelming need to communicate everything because he is happy and wants everyone to experience this joy of meeting the Lamb of God.
What does this comparison mean? There are two biblical references; the first is that of the paschal lamb whose blood was placed on the poles of the houses for protection from the exterminator. Jesus is the Lamb in this sense because the sacrifice of his life that he will do, therefore, his blood, his life given will be the one that will protect humanity from the attacks of the forces of death, of the forces of evil. All this, however, is still quite mysterious.
There is a second allusion to this image of the lamb; it is an enigmatic character that appears in the book of Isaiah, is a righteous man who, however, ends up in an ignominious way and the prophet describes this way his going to death; he says he was "he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth (Is 53:7,9).
A disciple reflecting on this death says that 'we were like a herd in disorder, each following his own foolish ways. With his death this lamb has healed us. It is this Lamb who came to take away the sin of the world.’ Let us note this verb that is important: not 'to forgive sin' but 'to remove'; 'airein' in Greek means to throw out.
What is this sin? We have an idea of sin that is not completely correct; we imagine it as the theft of something positive that is not ours, when someone improperly takes possession of something and, of course, is then punished, but sin is a beautiful, pleasant thing. Sin is forbidden, but it is a beautiful thing. NO. Sin is a loss of humanity; the person becomes dehumanized. The murderer, the dissolute, the pervert, the corrupt, the violent are less people, have lost their characteristics that distinguish man from primates and, therefore, sin is not something that should be punished, but must be healed.
Sin must be cast out because it disfigures the person. Let us note that here we are not talking about personal sins, but that he came to cleanse what is inhumane in the world because the world (and we must be aware of it) is regulated by competition where each one tries to get ahead, to dominate in order to enslave the other and, therefore, it is a world of beasts, an uninhabitable world. And everyone hoped and still hopes today that someone will change this world.
Who changes this world? Not a stronger beast, but a Lamb. The lamb is the opposite of the beast who compete and fight each other to dominate. The lamb is the image of meekness, of sweetness, not of subjugation, of violence. And it is this Lamb who came to sweep away the sin of the world. Let us take into account this sin of the world because society is based on false values that are not humanizing like selfishness, riches, power, contempt for the weakest.
This is the sin of the world that must be eliminated and is eliminated by the Lamb. Let us become aware of this sin of the world because he who does not fight in the face of these structures of sin cannot be a disciple of Christ. Whoever does not feel this hunger for justice of which the beatitudes pronounced by Jesus speak, cannot be one who enters into harmony with this Lamb who wants to end the world of beasts. His disciples, hearing the Baptist speak like this, followed Jesus.
To follow a Lamb when one lives in a world of beasts where success is measured in strength, in rivalry, means leaving for an extremely risky adventure. Let us now listen to the first words that Jesus addresses to the two who want to follow him:
“Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon.”
To the two disciples of the Baptist who began to follow him, Jesus asks a question: "What are you looking for? Not who they are looking for but what they are looking for. These are the first words mentioned by the Evangelist John. It is a question that Jesus immediately makes to anyone who wants to follow him: 'What do you seek? What do you expect from me? ‘Because it is better to clarify immediately so as not to go to the encounter and get disappointed waiting for what I never promised.' One could even expect from him what he explicitly excluded: power, privileges, the positions of honor, visibility... Those who cultivate these expectations from Jesus cultivate the worst misunderstanding because Jesus promised only the last place, where to be great one must put oneself at the service of one's brother and sister. The great one is not the one who dominates but the one who loves, the one who serves the needy.
This is what Jesus promised. Unfortunately, we know that in the Christian community these dreams of greatness, excluded by Jesus, have been cultivated and it is not surprising because the apostles themselves had followed him precisely to obtain the greatness of this world and Jesus himself continually reminded us of what he was proposing, but, even then he could not change the expectations and hopes of his disciples. We could follow Jesus to obtain graces, miracles, healings, favors in the difficulties of life. Then there are the disappointments of those who don't get them.
Sometimes you hear people say, 'I prayed so much for the healing of my relative who was very sick... and I didn't get the grace, so what's the use of praying? What's the use of faith? People are disappointed because they cultivate expectations of what Jesus never promised. Today we know that these expectations in the past were to turn to Jesus and the saints to obtain these graces. Today we know that these expectations are best met by medicine and those who sought Jesus for this have disappeared or are leaving. Hence there is the need to clarify to ourselves what we expect from Jesus. Why do we follow him?
Let our heart speak because there are expectations that only he and not science or technique, not yoga or Zen can give, these can be practices that help achieve serenity, inner peace but they do not answer the deepest questions of the human heart. Or perhaps we look to Jesus for the answer to something undefined, that we carry within us.
It is the case of Zacchaeus who had everything... riches, pleasures and yet felt a deep inner restlessness that always resurfaced even when he tried to silence these anxieties with parties. These questions were always emerging. He was looking for something undefined. It is the need to let our heart talk, let the concerns appear, the answers to existential questions: What am I doing? Where am I headed? What is my destination? Where do I come from? Why life... why death... and after death? To these questions only Jesus can give an answer and so the true seekers of Jesus are seekers of beauty, they are people thirsty for love, for life and have guessed that only he can answer these questions.
The two disciples answer: "Rabbi, where do you live? It does not mean 'what is your home address' ... You do not enter a brick house. After all, we know that it is not the walls that make up the house; the true home is the one where love relationships are established. Here both of them want to say 'we want to be with you, we want to know you, we want to bond with you,' just like it happens with lovers, when they discover how beautiful the other person is and how nice is living together...
Then the question is asked: Where do you live? Then the two of them want to say to Jesus: ‘We want to live with you, we want to live like you, we want to share your life.’ This is what it means, where do you live? Jesus' response: "Come and see.” Come'... move, if you get stuck where you are you will never experience my life; come and see: 'see'. Knowing Jesus doesn't just mean listening to what he said. It means to contemplate his person because everything in him speaks to us of God and speaks to us of the beautiful man, the successful man, the Lamb. It is necessary to go to him in order to see him.
The two "went, saw where he lived." They make a decision; they do not ask for information and then continue as before. This is what happens with so many Christians who want to know Jesus, but still stay in the house where they live, do not move or take a step. They leave, they make a decisive choice in their life, they want to know Jesus by living with him. "And they stayed with him that day.” They changed houses. They used to have their lives, their traditions, their convictions, also religious convictions, now they discovered a new way of living. Before, they lived according to the criteria of the world, that world that Jesus now came to cleanse, to sweep away all evil; and now they have discovered a new man.
The time: "It was four o'clock in the afternoon." Lovers always remember the first meeting of their lives. For these two disciples the end of the ancient world arrives; four o'clock in the afternoon marks the end of the day because at 5 the new day begins. With this reference to the timetable, these two disciples are telling us that it has dawned for them the new day, the new light that will guide their lives forever. It is a new birth; it is as if they were born at this moment.
When you have really made this experience of being with Jesus you no longer forget, just like the authentic love-encounters are never forgotten. When you have really known Jesus and been with him you can also get out of the way and you can make mistakes in life, but there is always nostalgia for the moments you have experienced the true joy, the harmony, the inner peace, from when you were in Jesus' house and understood that this was the only and true life.
You can also have a painful experience of the Church, you can be disappointed and wounded and that is why so many have left, and have also become aggressive against the Church and the faith, because like all loves, when they end they always leave a scar inside that is remembered for life. But who had had this experience like both of these disciples who stayed in Jesus' house, this experience is not forgotten anymore.
Let's be careful not to go back to the house of before; after having a deep and authentic encounter with Christ, after having gone to live with him, if we go back it is a failure, like the one who got married and then returns to his mother. It is the failure of life, of love. The one who has realized of what it means to follow the Lamb, the one who has recognized the Lamb, if he is a sane person, he cannot keep for himself this discovery he made; it is the one who has given him joy, the one who has given meaning to his life.
Let us listen to what happened to the two disciples who heard the Baptist invite them to follow the Lamb:
"Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus. He first found his own brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). Then he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).”
He who has found Christ and is in love with him cannot keep for himself the joy he has tasted, he must tell everyone. He who does not experience this need means that he has not really known Christ, did not discover this treasure, did not fall in love with him. Andrew who was in the house with Jesus runs immediately to his brother Simon and says: "We have found the Messiah".
Messiah is the one who fulfills the promises of the prophets, the one who was expected for centuries, the one who will start a completely new world; no longer the world of beasts dictated by sin and the desire to overwhelm others in order to be served; this is the world of beasts, now comes the world of the lambs.
And Andrew says to Simon 'we too will be involved in this world completely new.' This is God's dream, the new humanity; and this dream must be awakened today in the hearts of Christians because they have put it aside, they have forgotten it. Many have been crushed in a tired religious practice that no longer gives joy to anyone, practices of some devotion, but a spirituality which is devoid of this great ideal and which must be awakened above all in the young.
No fanaticism, but a deep conviction of this responsibility. The awareness, not of being better... NO. To be builders of this new world. Andrew takes his brother Simon to Jesus and when Jesus sees him changes his name. First, this verb 'to see' is repeated a second time; it is not a simple seeing but a seeing within: 'emblepo' and this verb will no longer appear in the Gospel of John. Here it is said that Jesus has penetrated the interior of Peter, his true identity. Simon does not ask 'who are you.' Peter: your identity, what you are called to be, and be part in this construction of the new world with your new identity.
The Christian vocation is just one, it is to be a servant of the brothers and sisters. Then there are several identities in the realization of this plan of God. Hence the importance of the name. Jesus changes the name to Simon. We too have many names: one is the one we are all called by, that says nothing in Semitic culture because it is simply a sound that does not say the identity.
There is another name, the one we give ourselves in secret, what we think we are; it is a name that is not always true because many times we overestimate or underestimate ourselves. And, therefore, we do not grasp our true identity, what we are made for.
Then there is a third name, the true one, by which God knows us, the one who realizes our true identity and we must learn to know this name, so we will understand what we are made for. And our life will succeed if we realize this identity with which God knows us. This is the importance of discovering the name with which God calls us. Why was I created? And Jesus turns to Simon and says: "You are Simon, son of John; your name will be Peter.”
Why John's son? In Matthew's gospel, when Jesus addresses Peter he says: "Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah." Jonah was the father of Simon and Andrew. Why does he call him John's son? Which John? Of course, John the Baptist. Son of John the Baptist means that until now he has been in the house of the Baptist to assimilate his mentality, his spirituality which is beautiful. Now Simon is called to leave this house to enter the new one.
Same with Andrew: ‘You too are John's son, now you will be God's son, Christ's brother, and you will enter this new family.’ And Peter does not say a word, he recognizes the Lamb and in fact Peter will invite Jesus to be a guest in his house in Capernaum and there Jesus will remain practically three years during all his public life.
I would like to conclude this meditation on this Gospel passage with what is happening today in the celebration of the Eucharist to become aware of our identity as disciples of Christ. What happens during the celebration of the Eucharist? That at a certain moment the celebrant takes up the words of the Baptist; showing us the consecrated bread he tells us: ‘Behold the Lamb of God.’
What happened to that Lamb indicated by the Baptist? We know what happened to the Lamb. He found himself in a world of wolves, of beasts, in the midst of wolves, and in the midst of wolves the fate of the lamb is marked. This is the way chosen by the heavenly Father to start the new world, not by sending one beast stronger than the others... the ancient world would continue everything as before, that is, moved by sin. Sending a Lamb with a marked destination was the only way to make the beasts understand that they were beasts. Before it was normal to be beasts, now no more because they have met the Lamb.
And only the Lamb incarnates the image of the true Son of God, who gives himself all for love, and then what happens at the Eucharistic banquet? It happens that Jesus, before concluding his story in this world, during the Last Supper took the bread and said 'this is me - This is my whole story, I made myself bread of life for those who needed my time, my energies, my abilities, I made myself available to the brothers and sisters as the bread of life.'
What happens now at the Eucharistic banquet? It happens that Jesus invites you to assimilate his person, to assimilate his whole history of life given as a lamb. "Behold the Lamb of God" means assimilate this story, you want to be also a lamb with this Lamb and therefore, be involved in this new humanity. ‘Take and eat.'
It is the conjugal commitment. Do you want to join your life to mine? By eating that bread you say yes. The Eucharist is this and only this. Let us remember this when we are presented with that bread which is Christ. Let us be aware that we too are builders of the world of the lambs.
I wish you all a good Sunday and a good week.