Summary: Jesus was revealed to the shepherds because He was the true Lamb of God.

December 22, 2008

Sacramentum Caritatis

He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’S, and on them he has set the world.

Why was the first revelation of the newborn King of the Jews to a gang of impoverished shepherds down the road from Mary and Joseph’s borrowed cave-stable? The key to understanding this is the first of Luke’s beatitudes: Blessed are you poor. When we are full of worldly riches, we are distracted from that which is important. We can’t pay attention to a little child, born of a poor carpenter and his wife, even if He happens to be the God-man. That’s why the song of Mary and the song of Hannah are so important: God is able to lift up only those who realize they are of low degree. He spurns the rich Sadducee and self-important Pharisee because they don’t understand that they are spiritually sick. Those of us who know we are sinners, who refuse to be distracted from the fundamental awareness of our profound need, are the ones who can be healed.

The Holy Father, in Sacramentum Caritatis, asks us similarly to reflect on the institution of the Eucharist at Passover. Jesus gave us this sacrament within a ritual meal that was a remembrance of the deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. But the ritual meal was not just some nostalgic memory of the past deliverance–it was “a prophetic remembrance, the proclamation of a deliverance yet to come.” Out of Egypt was just a start. Israel was still a rebellious people marked by slavery to idolatry, adultery, injustice to the poor. A more important deliverance was to come. Jesus prays to the Father at the Last Supper a thanks for the events of the past, but more importantly for His own exaltation, his lifting up on the cross, which won our redemption and set up the resurrection victory. At the same time, he reveals “that he himself is the true sacrificial lamb,” and “shows the salvific meaning of his death and resurrection.”

So that brings us full circle to the shepherds tending their sheep and lambs. They recognized a sacrificial lamb, pure and spotless, when they saw one. May we be able to do the same, and offer up our goods and our work along with the Lamb in this sacrifice.

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