The Feast of the Baptism of Jesus – God’s manifestation in Jesus and ourselves
Each of us is a unique creation with intricate gifts and abilities. While we were given those gifts at birth along the way we lose confidence in some of these gifts and begin to live our lives we were not meant to. Life’s difficulties can come in many forms: illness, loss, prejudice and pain which make their unique impact on our lives. In the gospel today, Jesus emerges from the water where a voice declares, ‘You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.’ (Message Bible).
There is something special about the timing: this affirmation comes before Jesus has done anything in terms of preaching, miracles, healings or raising people from the dead. These words declare who Jesus is - God’s beloved child – before he has done anything. And no mention of ‘original sin’ or saving babies from a hell created by a threatening God in any of the readings!! Further, it is the spirit that comes down in the form of a dove, when the fierce eagle – a bird of prey - was the symbol of the Roman Empire. The peaceful dove is an apt contrast to the bird of prey reflected in many of our institutions today where the way to peace is through violence and try to determine or define people. It does not matter what the Herods or Caesars of this world say who we are. What matters is what God says who we are – beloved daughters and sons.
These words apply to each person. They are inclusive without conditions, before one has done anything ‘worthy’. Unfortunately, we sometimes forget that this blessing applies to all our sisters and brothers, especially when the Church seems to disavow responsibility and care for certain groups within it. But, there is also opportunity to remember with gratitude people who do affirm, bless us and make God’s blessing credible. Is this not liberating for others? We are called to be light for one another. We see Jesus called to liberate and promote justice not by using power (‘he will not cry out’), but from caring (Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7) and bring about a ‘revolution of tenderness’ (Pope Francis). His presence is makes credible God’s promise to not give up on us and is attentive to free and heal every life (‘the bruised reed he will not break’).
In Living Gently in a Violent Word; The Prophetic Witness of Weakness by Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier, reference is made to this feast of the Baptism of Jesus: “We live in a world where groups close up, thinking that they and their traditions are the best. They oppose others, either to bring them to the so-called truth or to take more land. It’s the reality of history. Jesus entered into this world to love people as they are. The heart of the vision of Jesus is to bring people together, to meet, to engage in dialogue, to love each other. Jesus wants to break down the walls that separate people and groups. How will he do this? He will do it by saying to each one, ‘You are important. You are precious.’ There can be no peacemaking or social work or anything else to improve our world unless we are convinced that the other is important. You are precious. You—not just ‘people,’ but you. And we have a call to make history, not just accept history. We are called to change things—to change the movement of history, to make our world a place of love and not just a place of conflict and competition.”
So many people live in shame, believing they are unlovable, not loved, not worthwhile and failures causing them to become fearful and so either withdraw by building walls around them, or lash out at others. They forget who they are and they are meant for human connection because they believe they are different. The loss of this sense of connection can lead to a failure to live up to what ‘baptism means’: respond to God’s question to Cain, ‘Where is your sister/brother?’ or Jesus’ words ‘You did it to me’ when you failed to see him sitting outside the railway station, or the supermarket, or at the door of our nations who face political walls, the Indigenous people in prison, the abused mother or child, the Muslim people who continually have to justify their presence in our country, and the LGBTI people who have to hide who they are. In all cases, God’s blessing has already come upon them – ‘You are my beloved…….’ Whether we are Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, people of colour, diverse sexual orientations, or different political persuasions we are all God’s beloved as is the whole of creation. Clearly this is the message of Pope Francis.
Our greatest call as human beings is to be mindful that each one of us is beloved to God. We need to remember. We need to listen. But, as members of Jesus' community, we need to answer a question: ‘Are you willing to take on your humanity with faith and love?’ In baptism, we were ‘filled with the Spirit’ and sent to bring both God's love, mercy, compassion, peace and fire into our world. It is a call to engagement with our world.
Some people might say that this is not what they signed up for. It is true. The call is to engagement and who knows, as John the Baptist would have discovered, and many people in the past and present, where it will lead. Jesus' act of solidarity with us caused him to be immersed into our human life and affairs. That immersion can take us places where we would never have thought possible!!
Jesus wants to join us where we are most frail, pained, in adequate and even sinful. He has not remained aloof. His solidarity defines his ministry among the poor, the needy, the disabled, all those who wait for the gift of God’s reign that will override the way the world has been. The solidarity becomes the mission and it could take us places where we would sometimes rather not be. To places we did not sign up for. It means that must by our lives critique whatever sets us apart from others whether it is religious intolerance; the increasing gap between the rich and poor people; the violent language that comes from even our religious leaders again LGBTI people; the silence amongst leaders, both religious and political, when nonviolence is called for in the face of violence; the intolerance towards people who are not like us.
We have been given dignity but also fire – the Spirit. Baptism does not make us nice or respectable people but people who are prepared to risk rejection, abuse and ridicule for seeking peace through nonviolence by resisting any injustice. Let us listen to Isaiah’s words and understand what God is saying about Jesus: ‘You are my servant; you are my chosen one; in you I take delight, because you will reject the way of violence and only bring gentleness, compassion, love and healing to liberate the people.’ These words implicate us. We are called daily to see that it is all about Jesus and all about love. We need to stay close to him and deepen our understanding of what it means to be ‘beloved’.
To quote again from the book referred to earlier, ‘Jesus wants to break down the walls that separate people and groups. How will he do this? He will do it by saying to each one, ‘You are important. You are precious.’ There can be no peacemaking or social work or anything else to improve our world unless we are convinced that the other is important. You are precious. You—not just ‘people,’ but you. And we have a call to make history, not just accept history. We are called to change things—to change the movement of history, to make our world a place of love and not just a place of conflict and competition.’ May we humbly welcome the creative presence of God in all of us and in doing hear within our hearts that we are also the beloved children of God and that God is well pleased.
God of all life,
we give you thanks that you are ever with us.
In the turbulent deep waters,
in the ecstasy of love,
in the winnowing of our lives,
your grace is all-sufficient.
Alone and together, in community
your powerful love surrounds us
as we journey the path you set before us.
Remind us, Gracious One,
that we, all of us, are gathered in you.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.