Spirituality of the Readings

Behold the Lamb of God

Among Ignatius of Loyola’s prayer methods for a retreat there is a device called “repetition.” If a praying session went particularly well, or sometimes if it went badly, Ignatius would instruct the retreatant to repeat the exact same topic for their next session.

  “Oh no, not again,” I would groan when so instructed. This was the method I disliked most when I first made the Spiritual Exercises. Only later did I begin to understand something of what repetition was about.

I will attempt to give you a taste of that understanding here. It was not that I should try to experience again the same feelings that I had the first time. Not even that I should try to meet God in the same manner that I did before. Nor to rake my brains more vigorously so I could overwhelm it with brain-power. 

Repetition meant that I should go to the same shady spot in the forest, the place where God and I visited each other last time. I go to that area again to see if it is the site where we will meet again. And even if we do not, I might still remember what happened last time, like Mary “pondering these things in her heart” (Lk 2:19), and this might Give God a way to find me.

I mention this because on Sunday the Church prescribes what is, in effect, a repetition of last week’s Baptism of the Lord. Maybe there was some kind of mistake in the ordering of the readings?

Or what if this repetition has a purpose. Let’s use a sort of Ignatian method to sort it out.

First, what do you notice in the Gospel reading? Pause here if you want to go through that reading again and get your own ideas. Personally I am struck by the words the Baptist spoke when Jesus approached: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”

We hear this phrase at every Mass (“This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world”) but you and I probably have not thought much about it. Yet it is a mysterious idea, especially if you listen. It is actually quite rich.*

In the Jewish temple lambs had their lives taken as “sacrifices.” Perhaps it was thought that their innocence could go up to God’s pure heaven by this means—making a bridge between God and the people.

Jesus allowed himself be sacrificed on behalf of his people. He was already at one with God, as we know, but he was also a (sinless) member of a sinful people. So he carried the plague of their sins before God’s bosom. Insofar as the people allowed it, they were forgiven.

Can you picture a simple little lamb munching grass in a pasture? Spend time with it. Then see Jesus willing to love us with the same simplicity, unto death, so that he could be our bridge.

And that is a repetition. Finding God in a different way in the same place.

If you want to go further, consider this: a scholar named Joachim Jeremias held that the original word for “lamb” in Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke) was “talyã’,” which meant not only “lamb” but also “slave” or “servant.” Maybe the Baptist intended both meanings!

John Foley, SJ

Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson