Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Finally I had the good fortune to see the movie A Hidden Life recently, which is about a conscientious objector in Austria during World War II, Franz Jagerstatter, who was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007. He and his wife and three daughters lived on a farm and life becomes complicated when Hitler takes over Austria and no one objects except Franz. He does a brief military service and is sent home because he is a farmer but he only waits for the letter that arrives early in 1943 demanding that he report for service.
Some of the more moving dialogues are when his lawyer, not to mention his mother, the mayor, his parish priest and others, push him to sign the oath of obedience to Hitler. His lawyer tells him: “If you just sign it, you will be free.” Franz responds: “But I am already free.” He is free because he is following his conscience. A bit later he says, “I have a feeling inside of me that says I cannot do something I believe is wrong.” Everyone is telling him that he resistance will mean nothing; no one knows who he is; he will not change anything and it will put his family in danger. He refuses to sign the oath and in the end he is guillotined a few months later in Berlin. It is a long movie, almost like a retreat; don’t miss it since it is a work of art.
It relates to the gospel this week (John 1: 29-34) which focuses on the most significant of John the Baptist’s title for Jesus: ‘Lamb of God,’ who takes away the sin of the world. Truly Franz Jagerstatter is a lamb who gives his life for his faith. The title Lamb of God combines several meanings. First, is the servant who takes upon himself the sins of others or offers himself as a lamb of expiation, and second, he is the Passover lamb that saves Israel.
It is curious that John says twice: I do not know him. In a way he is like all the prophets, especially Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah who find themselves unworthy of their call. Even Christ, his own people of Israel knew him not! Maybe you and I feel the same way, at times. At times in our lives we can sense that we don’t know him. John is at least open and disposed to know him, unlike the people we see in a prior gospel who are always questioning and testing.
The lamb, in addition to what we said above, suggests innocence and playfulness. How could a lamb take away such a burden of sin? Perhaps the key is in the first word: behold! Take a good long look at a true lamb who acts much differently than us. Perhaps beholding, or looking at, or contemplate the weaknesses of my mom these past years: only a handful of teeth, a broken hip that left her unable to walk, not able to communicate feelings, or control her anger, or remember anything past her childhood, made her all the more lovable, in the eyes of God and in my family’s eyes. Sounds like we need to behold more of what is going on around us! Hold it quietly and pray!
Another image in the gospel is the dove and how it symbolizes the descent of the Holy Spirit. It seems to invoke the work of grace, quietly falling down from heaven on humanity. When the world was cleansed of sin by the Flood it was a dove that was sent to see if the waters were receding and finally it brought an olive branch and announced an era of peace.
These two images of a lamb and a dove are complementary. One removes the burden of sin through its weakness and innocence and the other grants a free flowing Spirit that is light, and graceful. One who is able to combine these two aspects is the ‘Chosen One’ of God, rather than the Son of God, according to the experts. It makes sense if he is the one who removes sin and grants the Spirit that he is the chosen child of God. He is the one who will choose others as his disciples in the next gospel, and I hope you see that he has chosen you!