The Lamb of God and the Servant

Picture this in your mind. You are standing with a group of 15 people at the south Gable of the village church in Knock, County Mayo, Ireland. It is August 21, 1879. It is night and it is raining. All of a sudden you notice dead silence. You and the others turn and see. You are speechless. You think you are seeing things but so is everyone else. Against the backdrop of the cold, grey, wet stone walls of the gable, you are with fifteen people—men and women, young and old—and you are witnessing a vision. Mary has appeared in your poor, oppressed and downtrodden country.
Unlike other Marian apparitions where Mary appeared alone, this scene is different. Mary appears with Joseph and John the Evangelist. Beside them is an altar with a lamb on the altar. Behind the altar is a cross. You are enthralled. The Mother of God has come to you and your friends. You are in what the Celtic Irish call thin space—a place where there is very little stands between you and God.
Unlike Medjugorje, Fatima, and Guadalupe, Mary does not speak. She gives no messages. You have to glean the message from the scene.
Mary does not speak because she wants you to focus on the Lamb—her son, the Lamb of God. What you are seeing is all about the Lamb of God. I think John the Evangelist is present because he writes much about the Lamb of God who was slain for us in the Book of Revelation. The victorious Lamb who has overcome injustice in the world sits on the throne in glory.
Do not forget to look at the cross behind the Lamb. It is by the cross that the nonviolent lamb will absorb evil instead of retaliating. It is all about the cross and suffering and deliverance. The Lamb is a man of sorrows—rejected by the religious leader and often doubted by his own disciples. His family thought he was out of his mind and tired to dissuade him from his mission.
This is the Lamb of God we meet in John’s Gospel. When John baptized his cousin, Jesus, he proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God.” Jesus is the Lamb of God. Jesus came among us as a lamb. One pundit said that Israel expected the Lion of Judah to deliver them from Roman oppression and oppression by their own religious leaders. They got instead a Lamb—the Lamb of God.
This tells us a great deal about Jesus, the Son of God, the Only Begotten of God. He became flesh and dwelled among us as a Lamb. In the Jewish religion, lambs were sacrificed. The Man of Sorrows would be slaughtered on the altar of the cross.
Unlike lions, lambs are very gentle. They are soft and fleecy. John’s proclamation takes us right to Isaiah. In Isaiah there are 4 Servant Songs—songs about the one who is coming. The Servant Songs from Isaiah help us to better understand Jesus.
Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
The Servant is the chosen one of God. The servant finds favor and God delights in the servant.
Jesus has been called by God. He chooses to be chosen. In the synoptic accounts, God says, “This is my beloved son.” But this is not just Jesus’ story. It is our story too. God calls us and delights in us. We have a choice.
We can choose to be chosen or we can reject God. And it is not easy to follow Jesus. Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen van Thaun spent years in solitary confinement in Vietnam. He says, “Yet, it is not always easy to live with saints. Even life with Christ is sometimes disconcerting to human intelligence. Indeed, it implies a total change of self…” Baptism makes this change possible. We are called and we choose to be chosen.
Isaiah goes on—I have put my spirit upon him;
God has breathed the Spirit into the servant. God breathes the Holy Spirit into Jesus and this is
the sign John the Baptizer needed to recognize Jesus and his divine mission. Likewise, at
Baptism God breathes his Spirit into us.
To what is the Servant called? The servant is called to bring forth justice to the nations. In the reign of God, the nations are unjust and God’s servant must bring justice to them. Justice means right order, right relationships. Jesus is called to set things right, to establish the proper relationship to God, to other people and to all of creation. Today, as his disciples, we are called to bring justice to the world, to our nation.
But, unlike many others who clamor in the din of the marketplace, the servant will not cry out or lift up his voice. Jesus speaks the truth. He does not need to shout out.
The next verse hits at the heart of who Jesus is and what he is about. A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench. Jesus is the Lamb of God, the one who walks gently on the earth. Jesus will faithfully bring forth justice to the nations. He will not faint or be crushed until he brings forth justice.
Jesus, again, brings forth justice, not like the warrior lion of Judah but like the gentle Lamb of God. I think that is what Mary was trying to tell the people at Knock and us. Ireland at the time and until just recently was a country torn by religious strife and violence. Over one million Irish had died in the genocide of the famine. Another million had been forced to leave Ireland for other places—America, Canada and Australia. Mary was telling the Irish and us that the Lamb of God will bring forth justice. Mary was sending a clear message that justice will come through the nonviolence of the Lamb, not through the violence of the IRA and the Loyalist militias.
Today the church through these readings is challenging us to imitate the nonviolent Lamb of God—Christ Jesus. We are to be people who set things aright, who bring justice to bear on human affairs. There are many injustices in our world—war, violence and exploitation. The culture of death thrives on racism, classism, sexism, militarism, poverty, preventable illnesses—the results of exploitation for someone else’s benefit.
Dan Berrigan writes: “Social, financial, political, military arrangements create multitudes of victims, while few ride high. Injustice is build into the entire system, quite taken for granted. The summons to minimal justice is rarely heard, even more rarely acted on. Numbing of spirit afflicts the mighty.”
We cannot allow our spirits to be numbed. Jesus brings a new covenant. He is a light to the nations. He opens the eyes of the blind and brings out prisoners from the dungeon. He brings out of prison those who sit in darkness. He brings us out of the darkness of the culture of death! The truth of the lamb will set us free. The truth of the Lamb will empower us to be a light to the nations, to bring justice to a world where injustice reigns.
We can take our lead from today’s reading and from Martin Luther King who strove to bring racial justice to America. On the night before his assassination, Dr. King proclaimed that he had been to the mountain top. He had looked over and seen the Promised Land where justice reigns. He warned us:
“For years now, we have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can we just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence.”
On another occasion, Dr. King wrote:
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction….The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. (Martin Luther King, Jr.., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, pp. 62–63, 1967.)
Today, Jesus, the nonviolent Lamb of God, calls us to bring justice to the nations through nonviolence. Nonviolence is not a tactic or strategy. It is a way of life. It gets up close and very personal. Liz McAlister tells us: “And we must explore our inner violence, pursue inner disarmament and healing. And we must lift up the alternative of nonviolence across the country. Our burden, if we can credit our Gospel, is to teach and practice nonviolence. I believe only communities of faith and conscience can offer a clear vision of nonviolence.”
Like the Suffering Servant and the Lamb of God, we walk in the world. We walk in sorrow as we behold injustice around us. We walk, and work, and struggle in the shadow of the cross that is the “sword” of the Lamb. But we are people of hope. The Lamb of God will prevail. We will claim the victory of justice and its offspring, peace.
Mary is the Queen of Peace. Her message has been consistent from Knock to Medjugorje. On Christmas Day 1988, Mary told the children at Medjugorje:
“Dear children! I call you to peace. Live it in
your heart and all around you, so that all will know peace, peace
that does not come from you but from God. Little children, today is
a great day. Rejoice with me. Glorify the Nativity of Jesus through
the peace that I give you. It is for this peace that I have come as
your Mother, Queen of Peace. Today I give you my special blessing.
Bring it to all creation, so that all creation will know peace.
Thank you for having responded to my call.”
[The reflections of Daniel Berrigan and Liz McAlister were helpful in preparing this. The retreat they gave on the Servant Songs can be found at]

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