Straight away in the Gospels, the role of St. John the Baptist as the last prophet of Israel is established. The Jews, who were awaiting the New Covenant and the New Exodus that the LORD had inspired Isaiah and other prophets to foretell, gathered around this prophet who described the soon-to-be-fulfillment of the entirety of the Old Covenant God made with his people. Some discerned St. John the Baptist knew what he was talking about; others fought him and his message tooth-and-nail to the death. When Jesus arrives at the Jordan River to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies, St. John the Baptist declares to everyone, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world… .” Fitting words for this Jesus who would now take his place as The Sacrificial Lamb of the Old Covenant.
Yesterday, we entered Holy Week, the most sacred week of our liturgical year. The Church has been guiding us through the Sacred Scripture to this week of The Passion of Christ. Now she calls to us as St. John the Baptist called, “Behold the Lamb of God.” All the liturgies of this sacred and somber week will invite us to consider the Suffering Servant of humanity. As we transport with our imagination into the events of Holy Week, we are more than spectators; we are beholders; we are to enter into the drama of our salvation. The word “behold” means more than to glance or notice; it means to observe and discern. Moses didn’t just glance at the burning bush in the desert; he beheld it. Our Blessed Mother didn’t just nod to Archangel Gabriel’s word on the incarnation of Christ within her; she declared, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the LORD!” One thousand sixty-five times, the inspired Word of God admonishes us to behold; for in observing, meditating, and discerning what the LORD is communicating to us through our senses, he aims for us to see beyond ourselves into Salvation History. The LORD calls us to open our eyes wide open to our salvation!
You have noticed, no doubt, that The Church consistently includes readings from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah in our daily liturgy. Good reason! The book of prophecies is known as the “Fifth Gospel.” Though written hundreds of years before the Incarnation of Christ, the prophet foretells the reality of the promised fulfillment of the Old Covenant. Where once God’s people offered sacrifices of lambs for the atonement of their sins, The Lamb of God, The Messiah, would someday offer his life as the final sacrifice for humanity.
The readings from Isaiah during Lent have been rich with these prophecies, so rich that I find I’ve often prayed with Isaiah as I anticipated this Holy Week. I invite you to join me in praying the words of Isaiah from chapters 42 and 53.
The LORD says to us:
Beloved, here is my servant, Jesus, whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
Upon whom I have put my Spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations…
Until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching… Behold my salvation!
Beloved, I formed my servant, Jesus, and set him
as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations,
To open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness… Behold my salvation!
Jesus says to us:
Beloved, do you believe what you have heard?… Behold my life in your place!
I grew up like a sapling before you,
like a shoot from the parched earth;
I had no stately bearing to make you look at me,
nor appearance that would attract you to me… Behold my life in your place!
I was spurned and avoided by people,
I suffered, I was accustomed to infirmity,
people even hid their faces,
spurned me, and held me in no esteem… Behold my life in your place!
It was your infirmities that I bore,
your sufferings that I endured,
while you thought of me as stricken,
as one smitten by God and afflicted… Behold my life in your place!
I was pierced for your offenses,
crushed for your sins;
I took upon me the chastisement that makes you whole,
by my stripes, you were healed.
You had gone astray like a lamb,
you followed your own way;
but the LORD laid upon me
your guilt… Behold my life in your place!
Though I was harshly treated, I submitted
and opened not my mouth;
like a lamb led to the slaughter
or a sheep before the shearers,
I was silent and opened not my mouth.
Oppressed and condemned, I was taken away, and you would have not thought any more of my destiny… Behold my life in your place!
When I was cut off from the land of the living,
and smitten for your sin,
a grave was assigned for me among the wicked
and a burial place with evildoers,
though I had done no wrong
nor spoken any falsehood.
But the LORD was pleased
to crush me in infirmity… Behold my life in your place!
I gave my life as an offering for your sin…
and the will of the LORD for you was accomplished through me.
Because of my affliction,
you shall see the light in fullness of days;
through my suffering, I justified many,
and your guilt I bore… Behold my life in your place!
I endured my Passion so that you would live in victory from sin and death. I surrendered myself to death
and was counted among the wicked;
I took away your sin
and won pardon for your offenses… Behold Your life in my place!