Fr. Charles Irvin
Isaiah 49:3,5-6; 1Corinthians 1:1-3; John 1:29-34
If you go out into the North African desert with its rolling and shifting hills of sand you will likely come upon quicksand. You can also encounter quicksand in our North American swamps, in our Florida Everglades, and even in some of our own inland lakes. Nearer to us you’ll find it in the marshy, reed-filled edges of Michigan’s inland lakes.
Sometimes these spots are called sinkholes. They are pockets of loosely packed sand that has collected in a hole with a really deep bottom. There’s nothing solid at the bottom of these sinkholes. When you step into one you immediately begin to sink down and the more you thrash around the more it sucks you down until you are under the sand and then die of suffocation.
Many people find themselves in spiritual sinkholes. They are being sucked down into alcoholism, drugs, sex, mistreatment of others, and other sorts of addictions. They are caught in behavior patterns that are repeated over and over and over again. Such unfortunates are powerless to stop themselves.
The only way out of quicksand or sinkhole is to reach up and grasp the hand of someone who is standing on solid, rock-hard ground. It takes the two of you to get out. Your rescuer can’t pull you up all by himself, and you, all by yourself, cannot get yourself out.
Why is it that so many people continue to be sucked down into their moral, psychological and spiritual sinkholes? The problem is located in their unwillingness to reach out for help. They cling to the delusional lie that they can rescue themselves. “I can take care of my own problems,” they say. “I know what to do and I don’t need anyone else to tell me what to do.” “I don’t have a real problem; I don’t need any busy-body’s help. Besides, they don’t know what I’m facing; they don’t know what’s going on in my life.”
Self-help is the Great American Illusion. Self-help remedies fill our magazines and books that line the shelves of our bookstores. Usually self-help remedies are of no real help at all and these victims thrash around all the more and thus continue to suffocate in their own sinkholes filled with quicksand.
Now most of you who are here come to Mass in order to stay out of trouble, in order to build your lives with Christ, the Rock — the One standing in solid ground. Some, however, may be here because they know they’re in a sinkhole and are trying to get a good grip on Jesus’ outstretched hand so they can, with Him, get out of the moral quicksand that’s suffocating them.
When you see and understand the picture I’m painting for you, you’ll begin to see the meaning of why Jesus is called the “Lamb of God”.
In the city of Werden, in Germany, there stands a Catholic Church with a lamb carved out of stone and placed on its roof. Centuries ago a worker was once up on the roof of that church in order to repair it. His safety belt snapped and he fell. The area below was filled with large-size rocks. As luck would have it, a lamb was having its lunch on grass growing between the rocks. The craftsman fell on the poor lamb. The lamb was slain… but the man lived. So the craftsman did the decent thing. He sculpted a lamb and, in gratitude, situated it on the roof.
Today we come together at this Liturgy to remember and salute another Lamb. Each of us owes Him much. As a matter of fact, we owe Him our spiritual lives.
What did John the Baptist have in mind when he caught sight of Jesus and shouted, “Behold, the Lamb of God…”? Many world-class scholars have speculated about what was in John’s mind. The real question is “what do we have in our minds when we speak of Jesus as the Lamb of God?”
There are a lot of Christians living in what was formerly known as Czechoslovakia. Back in November of 1989, when atheistic Communism fell in their country and the Church was once again free, they put a sign on a lawn of a Prague church. It read: THE LAMB WINS. Those folks had a grip on reality.
John the Baptist spent most of his life out in the wilderness. Nevertheless he had also been around for some years in what we politely call civilization. He knew what life was like among the Hebrews of his time. He was very aware of the fickleness of human love. He knew that talk is cheap and that our words of love are often insincere. He knew that humans often say “I love you” to one another in order to get something without giving much of anything in return.
Jesus likewise knows us only too well. He knows we say we love Him while not really wanting to change our ways. And so long as we do that we’ll continue to sink into our own self-made quicksand. Our hearts and souls will continue to suffocate under the weight of our addictions and repeated ways of doing things. We’ll continue to sink in the morass of the way we treat God, others, and ourselves… or don’t treat God, others and ourselves.
So is the “Lamb of God” just a nice, pretty piece of poetry for us? Is the Lamb of God something that’s merely soft and cuddly and not a part of our real life?
Just who IS this Lamb of God for you? Like St. John the Baptist, the Church presents Him to you in each and every Mass. “Behold the Lamb of God!” the priest proclaims. “Behold Him who takes away the sin of the world!” When he does that, do you recognize what you must do in order to really receive Christ? For He is not here simply to make you feel good. He is here so that in your ordinary every-day living you can take a hold of His outstretched hand and begin living while standing not on quicksand, but on solid ground… His ground. If you do not, I guarantee your spirit will suffocate and die, and you’ll never receive the power God has given you to live life as it really should be lived — a life filled with God’s Spirit living within you forever, as He intended us to live it in the first place before we took control for ourselves.
There is a great paradox here. The great mystery is that we reach out to God by finding Him within us. We win by surrendering. We get out by going inward. For the revelation of Jesus is that God is far nearer to us than we have the daring or courage to see. God’s presence, power and love abide within us. It is there, deep down within, that I find the way out of the quicksand that pulls me down along with freedom from my Imperial Self.
So receive, now, the Lamb of God and let Him become deeply a part of your inner self. There, grasp Him and hold on to Him, for he came to rescue you and rescue me from all that would entrap us, all that would pull us down, all that would suffocate our souls.
“Behold the Lamb of God. Behold Him who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to His Supper”.