I want to put this Sunday’s Gospel into historical context and how the Jews might have heard John’s announcement of Jesus: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” We go back to the second book of the Bible, Exodus.
We read there that the Pharaoh of Egypt was the most powerful man around the year 1200 B.C. The Pharaoh had enslaved the Hebrews, the Jewish nation. He was afraid that the Israelite slaves would keep increasing rapidly in his country in spite of their cruel life of slavery.
At a certain point, to practice his own form of socialism, Pharaoh ordered all the Hebrew midwives to throw any baby boy born of any Jewish mother into the river to be drowned. This clearly is an abuse of power.
Fortunately, two midwives named Shiphrah and Puah, feared the Lord and did not listen to Pharaoh’s unjust law. They saved many babies from being killed and one of them was Moses.
The mother of Moses hid the baby boy among the reeds in a papyrus basket and had her own daughter watch over him. Soon the Pharaoh’s daughter came down to the river and found the baby boy and adopted him as her own. She named the boy Moses, which means, “drawn from water.”
Moses realized over time that he has been adopted, that he was born of a Hebrew slave. He tries to help his own people by defending them but accidently kills an Egyptian task master. He flees into the wilderness and becomes a shepherd until God calls him - when he was eighty years old - to return to Egypt and confront Pharaoh, commanding him to release the Jewish slaves.
God gives him the mission to bring them to the promised land flowing with milk and honey – and freedom – with the help of Aaron, his brother-in-law, who was eighty-three years old.
Of course, when Moses demands that Pharaoh release the Israelites from slavery in order to worship the One True God, Pharaoh denies his request. Moses warns him that God will then afflict Egypt with plagues until he obeys God’s desire.
After each plague Moses makes the request of Pharaoh to release God’s people, and Pharaoh denies him even as the plagues become more severe. The last plague, the tenth plague, Moses tells Pharaoh that God is the author of life and death, and that the Lord God will send the Angel of Death to Egypt to take the first born of all Egyptians to his judgment seat, if he does not set God’s people free.
God knew that Pharaoh was drunk on power and would refuse, and so he had the Hebrews prepare a ritual that would set them apart and guard them from the Angel of Death. God commanded Moses to tell the faithful Jews to procure a male, unblemished lamb, sacrifice it, and put some of its blood on the lentil and the doorpost of their homes, for this is the night of the “Passover.”
The Jews were to roast and eat the Passover Lamb with unleavened bread (this foreshadows Christ in the Holy Eucharist, for he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!), and be prepared to leave Egypt for the promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and freedom to worship the One True God of life and salvation.
That night the Angel of Death passed over all the faithful Jews who listened to God through Moses, those who ate of the Passover Lamb with humble praise and thanksgiv-ing. Yet, that same night the Egyptians were thrown into
much confusion and weeping as all their first-born children were dying, because God is the giver of life and death, and he warned of this con-sequence if the leader of the Egyptians did not obey his commands. Pharaoh himself lost his first-born child and ordered the Jews to leave Egypt.
The faithful Jews who had listened to God through Moses followed him to the promised land. But first they had to be purified, pass through the Red Sea while being pursued by the Egyptian army, receive the Ten Commandments of God, and wander in the desert for forty years. Finally, they crossed the Jordan river and entered the promised land; a land flow-ing with milk and honey, and freedom to worship God.
What does this have to do with today’s Gospel? Everything, because when John the Baptist baptizes Jesus at the Jordan river and calls out, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” Everyone who was a practicing Jew would know that Jesus, this man from Nazareth, was somehow going to be the Passover Lamb and save everyone from sin.
John the Baptist testifies, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain on him… He is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.”
My friends in Christ, at our Baptism we passed through the Red Sea and received the Ten Commandments. We were led by the Holy Spirit to First Confession and First Communion to eat of the Lamb of God, Jesus, the unleavened bread, and so have the strength and wisdom to choose to be sealed by the Holy Spirit at our Confirmation.
Now that many of us have been Confirmed, we need to stand up to the Pharaohs in this world who are promoting abortion and social engineering; those who do not protect children from transgenderism and all the confusion of a world that denies God the Creator of Life and Salvation, and denies the Authority of Jesus Christ and his plan of salvation found fully in His Catholic Church.
May we receive Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, in the Holy Eucharist with hearts purified by the Holy Spirit. May we be strengthened by Jesus Christ to know and serve God who is the author of our life and freedom, to serve and worship him above all, and to love and serve him in the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters.
Peace in the Christ, the Lamb of God,
Fr. Thomas McCabe