The Gospel readings at Sunday Mass enrich our communion with Christ, placing us with his closest disciples as they followed him from the beginning of his ministry to its glorious conclusion in his death and Resurrection.
Today, as the readings take us to the beginning of Christ’s ministry in the Gospel according to John, we are introduced to the two most fundamental questions that will determine our faith and the manner in which it is to be lived: who is this Christ that we follow, and what must be the nature of our discipleship?
John the Baptist takes us to the heart of this question. As the Baptist approached Jesus, accompanied by his disciples, he identified him with words that spoke from the darkness of Israel’s long experience of sin and yet, at the same time, brought the promise of healing and salvation: “Look, there is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the World.”
The very title Lamb of God echoed a deliverance long ago, when an enslaved people had been delivered from the tyranny of Egyptian slavery by the blood of the Passover lamb. Then the blood of the lamb had represented God’s love for his people, his determination to give them a new beginning in a land that would be their own. Could they dare to hope that, despite the infidelity that had followed their possession of the Land, God would again set them free in the Messiah for whom they longed?
By identifying Jesus as the Lamb of God John the Baptist left no doubt that this Jesus whom the disciples were to follow was indeed the Messiah, the one who would bring salvation to the whole world. The very title indicated the manner in which this salvation would be achieved: this Christ, like the Passover lamb long ago, would be given in love, and poured out in sacrifice for the healing of the world. Unlike the Passover lamb long ago, he would be raised in glory. This is the Lamb who, in the Book of John’s Revelation, stands at the side of the Father, inviting us to share in his feast. This is the living communion to which we are invited in the celebration of the Eucharist: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those who are called to the Supper of the Lamb.”
Having identified Jesus as the Lamb of God, John continued to indicate the manner in which his disciples would be enabled to become his followers: “The Man on whom you see the Spirit come down and rest is the one who is going to baptise with the Holy Spirit.”
John’s baptism in water had been a baptism of repentance, a baptism that brought forgiveness for the past but which by itself could never enable sinful hearts to persevere in the future. This would come with the baptism that Jesus would bring a baptism in the Holy Spirit. Through this baptism the Holy Spirit would enable the disciples not only to follow Christ, but to live his love, his faith and his triumph over death.
This is the Christ we follow and if we are to have a new beginning then we must truly believe that our own baptism in his Spirit enables to live and act in the mind of Christ Jesus. We are, in the words of St Paul, “the holy people of Jesus Christ, called to take their place among all the saints everywhere who pray to Our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is their Lord no less than ours”.