An uncomfortable image

Today’s readings from John’s Gospel sees John the Baptist hail Jesus as “the lamb of God”. And like so much in the readings at the moment it’s much odder than our familiarity makes it. I mean, ointing at a person and calling him a lamb, not as endearment but full of prophetic edge: a lamb to be killed to take away the sins of the world.

It had to be a reference to the Passover lamb, with Isaiah 53 in there too, which paved the way for a person, the Messiah, being seen in this way.

So while the imagery of Revelation and all our beautiful songs about the Lamb on the throne might make us imagine a scene like Van Eyck’s (which is full of holiness and worship if seeing a sheep standing on the altar is still, well, odd),


in fact at this point of the story, it’s just Zurburan’s everyday animal tied up for the knife that might better come to mind:


I remember seeing it for real when it was loaned from the Prado to the  National Gallery for their Seeing Salvation exhibition. I found it disturbing then and I find it disturbing now.

But if that has disturbed my all-too-comfortable reading of the gospel today, and made me think afresh about the one died for the sins of the world, then Alleluia to that. Here’s the passage:

John 1.29-34
The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’

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