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Month: January 2019

Disturbed by Baptism

Disturbed by Baptism

Are you confused by Jesus’ baptism?  Many people find it confusing.  Why would Jesus be baptized when it was a sign of repentance?  He was sinless, so why would he be baptized?

If you find the Baptism of Jesus confusing, that is a good sign.  That means that the power of the sign is sinking in.  Jesus often proclaimed the kingdom of God with disturbing parables or signs.  Remember how unsettled Peter was when Jesus washed his feet?  Why would his master kneel down and wash his feet like a servant?  It was good for Peter to be disturbed.  That meant that he was beginning to understand the significance of the gesture. 

That is the kind of moment we have here.  John said about Jesus, “One mightier than I is coming.  I am not worthy to loosen the straps of his sandals.” (Lk. 3:16)  Imagine how confusing this was for John the Baptist!

God likes to surprise us, like having his Son born in a stable and laid in a feed trough for animals.  By his humble birth, Jesus came to be with poor shepherds, instead of important people like kings or the Jewish leaders.  It was a prophetic sign that God dwells with all people, especially with the poor and humble. Later Jesus clarified this sign by telling a parable of his final coming in glory when he will judge the world.  After listing categories of the poor – the hungry, homeless, sick, prisoners, and strangers or immigrants without any legal rights – he disturbs us by declaring, “Whatever you did to the least of my brothers [and sisters], you did to me.”  (Mt. 25:40)  In that parable, he warned us that we should see him in every poor person.  The most desperate people are special places where he dwells.  That is what it meant for him to be born and laid in a feed trough.

Jesus’ baptism is an extension of that revelation.  Now he reveals an even deeper love.  He is with us in our sin.  He joins sinners coming for baptism.  As people come in droves to John the Baptist, Jesus associates himself with sinful humanity.

That is why he chose to be crucified between two criminals, a prophetic sign shocking us with his mercy.  When one of the criminals pleaded with him, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom,” he assured him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  (Lk. 23:42-43)

Jesus’ baptism foreshadows the cross, where he takes on the sin of all the world.  He experienced the whole weight of human sin at the crucifixion.  Yet, he kept speaking of mercy.  He stunned us by praying for those who crucified him, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.”  (Lk. 23:34)

In the second letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul wrote:  “For our sake [God] made [his Son] to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Cor. 5:21). When we think of this, we should have a holy confusion.  We should ask, “What is God doing?  How could Jesus act with such goodness?”

In his letter to Titus, St. Paul reacts to this mystery by saying, “When the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, he saved us through the bath of rebirth [i.e., by our baptism] and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us.” (Tit. 3:4-6)

One of the goals of religion is wonder….. to sit and marvel at who God is and how God acts.  Jesus was baptized to be with us in our sin and rescue us from sin.  Through his birth and baptism, “the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy.”

But it doesn’t stop there.  We are also baptized.  He has baptized us “with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Lk. 3:16)  We share his mission.  Now we are supposed to shock people with our prophetic deeds like St. Maximillian Kolbe who volunteered to die in a starvation bunker at Auschwitz for a man he did not know, or like Mother Teresa who picked up the dying off the streets of Kolkata because she was struck by the warning, “Whatever you did to the least of my brothers, you did to me.” 

We have been given the Holy Spirit and the fire of God’s love.   We have been immersed in the Spirit, not because of any righteous deeds we had done, but because of his mercy.  

Today, marvel at how that gift has been revealed in Jesus.  And ask for the grace to act like him – to be his hands and feet in the world, and to recognize Christ in his least brothers and sisters.

Making resolutions at the manger

Making resolutions at the manger

Have you sat in silence with Mary and gazed at the manger?  Just sitting and pondering the mystery, whether your manger scene at home or at church.  After telling us the story of Jesus’ birth, Luke says, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)  Another translation says, “Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” 

This is a clue to how we should respond to the Christmas mystery.  It is a treasure to be pondered.  Take a few minutes to reflect on these things with Mary.  Jesus’ birth changed her life completely.  As the mother of God’s Son, Mary is the Mother of God.  That title was given to her in the year 431.  At a council of the bishops at Ephesus (in modern day Turkey) they declared that Jesus was “true God and true man” from his conception in Mary’s womb.  That truth was declared by calling Mary, the Mother of God.  The Greek title Theotokos means she carried God in her womb.  Imagine what that was like for her. 

Paul reflects on this mystery and takes it one step further.  “God sent his Son, born of a woman . . . that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Gal. 4:4-5)  This Paul’s favorite way of describing the effect of our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection.  We are adopted by God as his sons and daughters.  At that time, adoption had permanent consequences.  The adopted son became a true son of his adopting father.  Therefore:

  • The adopted son could never be rejected.
  • The natural parents could not reclaim the adopted son.
  • Adoption included the rights of inheritance.

Through Jesus we have received “adoption as sons [and daughters]” so we can never be rejected by God.  Once our parents bring us for baptism, we belong to God.  Our natural parents cannot take us back.  Once a Catholic, always a Catholic.  And, we are heirs to all of God’s gifts.

Mary cooperated with God’s grace and became the Mother of God.  If we cooperate with the grace of baptism, we will be transformed into God’s own children.  We will act like Jesus.  We will be his presence. 

Our adoption is real.  The question is whether we will live it.  How about a New Year’s resolution to live your adoption as a son or daughter of God?  What would that look like?  Paul said, “As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba,’ Father!” (Gal. 4:6)   Anthony de Mello said it this way.  Through baptism we are blessed with the relationship that Jesus had with the Father.  We have the right to speak to God face-to-face.  “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’”

When you pray, do you pray with confidence of little children who speak to their mom or dad?  Are you in tune with the Spirit?  Do you ask for the Spirit to guide your actions?  As you look back over your life, do you see a growing awareness of how the Holy Spirit has guided you?  Is your relationship with the Holy Spirit deepening with each passing day?

Then Paul says, “if you are a son [or daughter], then you are also an heir.” (Gal. 4:7)  Adoption leads to the right of inheritance.  You have received the Father’s gifts, just like his Son Jesus was blessed with every good gift:  prayer filled with trust; grace to overcome any sin that plagues your heart; healing power to soothe your wounds and restore your weary spirit; and forgiveness to be merciful like the Father.

The Christmas mystery made Mary into the Mother of God.  It makes us adopted sons and daughters of God.  Sit by the manger scene, ponder this great mystery, and make New Year’s resolutions to help you mature as son or daughter of God.  I suggest three resolutions:

  • for your relationship w/God
  • for your relationship w/family or friends
  • for school or work

Will you wander into the New Year with a sense of doing the same ole, same ole? Or will you resolve to do live intentionally as God’s beloved child?  More hopeful and at peace, with a clearer sense of who you are and whose you are.  More humble and grateful, walking serenely inside of God’s relentless mercy.

Make a commitment to prayer which reflects the reality of your adoption as a son or daughter of God. Make a resolution to treat family members in a way that reflects Christ’s love.  Live your adoption well.