Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

God’s infinite mercy

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

At a recent noontime Angelus address, Pope Francis noted that the name John the Baptist uses for Jesus to announce his coming is quite remarkable and even revolutionary. The Baptist points to Jesus and cries out to the crowd gathered at the Jordan to be baptized: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” It is an announcement that expresses both novelty and surprise.

This name represents a total reversal of humanity’s view of God, the pope observed: “While in all religions it is man who offers and sacrifices something to God, with the coming of Jesus into the world, it is God who offers his son for the salvation of humanity. John expresses his astonishment and his approval of this novelty brought by Jesus, through a meaningful expression that we repeat every time in Mass: “Here is the lamb of God, the one who takes away the sin of the world!”

We recall the scene in Genesis of the elderly Abraham leading Isaac to Mount Moriah, having heard God tell him to sacrifice his only son. At one point, Isaac asks his father, “We have here the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb to be sacrificed as a burnt offering?” Abraham replies: “God Himself will provide the lamb for the sacrifice, my son.”

Of course, we know the rest of the story. God’s angel stays the hand of Abraham as he prepares to slay his son and a ram, stuck in the thicket, is substituted. Early Christian writers pointed out that only with the sending of Jesus into the world does God fully answer the question of Isaac. The lamb to be offered is not Abraham’s son, but God’s. This is what the Baptist understands and why he exclaims with surprise this entirely new way to understand how God brings about salvation. God saves us by loving us to the point of giving us his only son.

John’s testimony about Jesus at the Jordan, then, is an invitation for us to rethink our relationship with God. It is a relationship in which God takes the initiative, not us. It is a relationship that begins with being surprised that in sending his son, God has decided to stand with us, to be on the side of sinners, and to save the world by taking the full burden of its evil upon himself.

Throughout his ministry this Lamb of God, Jesus, continued the invitation to rethink our relationship with God and what that demands of us. It demands that we reject any attempt to “save” ourselves by the accumulation of goods and comfort, as we see in the story of the man who wanted to build more barns to celebrate his rich harvest. It demands that we stop judging others, dictating what they must do to be saved, as the story of the woman caught in adultery recounts. It demands that we not only celebrate but facilitate the return of someone who has lost their way, as the father does in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. 

God’s lavish mercy is the only starting point for our relationship with our God who saves.

No attempt to define or restrict the salvation that comes from God in terms of human accomplishments, sacrifices, efforts will do. Even more so, making the center of our spiritual lives God’s love for us will also redefine our relationships with each other, purifying those relationships of envy, resentment, hatred and anger.

Now, as God has offered his only son as the lamb, there is no more taking of sides, a “them” and “us,” a stranger and a son. God has decided to be on our side, and there is no need to compete for his love, for we are all his children, and his love is never exhausted; his mercy endures forever.