My Dear Family in Christ,
This past week, an incredible interview took place featuring Fr. Andy Dalton, an expert on the Shroud of Turin. The whole interview is fascinating, from a scientific standpoint as well as spiritually and theologically. In this column, I will synthesize one particular point that relates directly to this Sunday’s Gospel from John. The title and a link to the interview are attached at the end if you want to hear the whole thing.
**Disclaimer: This is a scriptural and theological rollercoaster, so buckle up.
On Good Friday, at the foot of the Cross, people taunt Jesus by saying “If you are the Christ, come down from the Cross so that we may believe.” Why didn’t Jesus do that? It sounds like a pretty good deal.
On the Cross Jesus wears a crown of thorns upon His head. In scripture, the first time we hear about thorns is way back in Genesis 3:17, after Adam and Eve’s sin. One of the consequences of this sin, as declared by God is this: “Cursed be the ground because of you, thorns and thistles shall it bring forth…” In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7:16-20, Jesus warns of the false prophets and tells His disciples that though they are ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’, you will know them ‘by their fruit.’ “Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?” Jesus knew the scriptures; He knew that thorns stood for sin, and He knew that He would wear those thorns on His head.
Why the head? Psalm 7 says ‘Let one’s evil return upon his head’, and in Leviticus 16:8-10, we hear of the Israelites using a ‘scapegoat’. This was a rite for forgiveness of sins by which the High Priest, on behalf of his own sins and the sins of the people, would lay his hands on the head of a goat and send it into the wilderness, ‘taking away the sins’ of the people.
In Genesis 22 we hear of the ‘Testing of Abraham’, and there are clear references to Jesus: Abraham, like God, intends to sacrifice his only beloved son, and Isaac, like Jesus, carried the wood for the sacrifice up a mountain, upon his own shoulders- and he does so willingly. On the way up the mountain, Isaac asks Abraham where the lamb for sacrifice was, Abraham responds ‘The Lord will provide the lamb.’ When the Angel of the Lord stops Abraham from killing Isaac, Abraham turns around and sees a ‘ram, caught in a thicket by its horns’. The head of the vicarious victim was wrapped in thorns, and it would be sacrificed instead of Isaac. Abraham renames the mountain to ‘Yahweh Jireh’, which means ‘The Lord Will Provide.’ Still, the story is incomplete: wasn’t the Lord to provide a lamb, not a ram?
Finally, we arrive at this Sunday’s Gospel. “John, seeing Jesus approaching him, declared, “This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” I wonder if He knew how right He was. When we return to the Cross on Good Friday, those taunting Jesus wanted to see His power. What they didn’t realize was that this was the Lamb provided by God from Genesis 22, the fulfillment of the scapegoat from Leviticus 16, wearing upon His head, the thorns of Genesis 3 and Matthew 7, the sins of the world.
Jesus didn’t need to come down from the Cross to show His power. He revealed His power by taking the entire weight and fury of sin and evil upon His sacred head. It crushed Him, but He triumphed over Satan by His willingness to suffer, and by rising from the dead. And if we are with Him, He offers His victory as our own.
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”
God Love you,