Behold, and Belong to, the Lamb of God


John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

I’ll never hear “Behold the Lamb of God” at Mass the same way again.

Last night, I heard one of the best homilies I can remember, and it focused on this short, but powerful phrase. I can neither share the text in full, nor with the passion with which it was delivered, but I did want to share some concepts from it with the CatholicHow community.

Fr. Jim Cristman, in residence at our parish and Director of Priestly Vocations in the Archdiocese of Denver, explained that the word “behold” does not merely mean “to see, to lay eyes on, to witness.” Sure, we do all of those things as the priest lifts the host and repeats the words of John the Baptist just before we receive the Body of Christ: “Behold the Lamb of God.” But the word “behold” holds so much more for us.

In a deeper sense, and if we look to the origin of the word, it means “to hold thoroughly.” Put another way, Fr. Jim suggested, it means “to belong.” To truly behold the Lamb, or the Body of Christ, is to belong to Him. When we behold Christ Himself, present in the Eucharist, we know to whom we belong. If we embrace this, if we remember this, it we let go and let this belonging rush over us, we are united to and strengthened by God and it orders everything in our lives.

When we hear these words, the Body of Christ is physically lifted up above us, so in another sense, “to behold” here also means “to be under.” If we keep Christ lifted up, and remember that we are under Him, again, everything is ordered properly. Christ is revered above all else.

Fr. Jim framed part of this discussion in the context of being asked what his favorite part of the Mass is: that moment when a priest holds the Eucharist aloft and the privilege of repeating the words we hear in today’s gospel. You may recall that the old translation of the Mass in English said simply, “This is the Lamb of God.” While studying to becoming a priest, Fr. Jim was instructed that the translation would be changing to more closely reflect the words of John the Baptist (and the words used elsewhere around the world), and he couldn’t wait for the change. “Behold” is so much stronger and more impactful. And he suggested that — as we begin Ordinary Time and a period in which we hear in the readings and gospels how we are to live as Christians and follow Christ — our goal and our challenge is contained almost entirely in this one word. If we fully belong to Christ, what more could we desire?

His homily included so much more: He shared a beautiful story of his experience in a tiny chapel in Slovakia where, before he wanted to be a priest, he felt a deep connection to the Slovak translation of “Behold the Lamb of God.” He talked about going to Confession himself, invited us all to draw deeper to that Sacrament because forgiveness from our sins allows us to re-belong fully to Christ. He spoke about the moving power of Adoration — another beautiful invitation and opportunity for us to behold Christ — and his experience of carrying the monstrance around a large gathering of teens, slouching and feeling small under the Lamb.

This touched my heart in a profound way last night. It was precisely what I needed to hear, when I needed to hear it. Praise God for that. I pray that I may hold this truth “thoroughly,” and that others too may feel more deeply drawn into the Eucharist, invited to the altar, and reminded to whom they belong.

Today’s gospel, John 1:29-34:

John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
He is the one of whom I said,
‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me
because he existed before me.’
I did not know him,
but the reason why I came baptizing with water
was that he might be made known to Israel.”
John testified further, saying,
“I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven
and remain upon him.
I did not know him,
but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me,
‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain,
he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’
Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”


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