|Feast of the Baptism of the
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
Psalm 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10
So as to be available more to the graces of the readings and the Eucharist, we might imagine Jesus standing knee-deep in the Jordan River, clothes dripping and his face turned up towards the sky. John the Baptist is ahead of Jesus standing on the bank and he too seems to be listening to something up there.
The liturgy’s Gospel does some kind of violence to our sense of time. Last Sunday Jesus was heading for Egypt as a baby after being paid homage by the Magi. Seven days later Jesus is thirty years old and having an adult baptism.
We would rather linger a while with the growing-up Jesus and enjoy the human development through which he wandered. Fortunately or unfortunately there is much conversion-work for Jesus to do in our lives and much listening to the calls of grace. We can pray for this open-eared, openhearted way of relating with the calling God.
We have been baptized into several identities within that of Christ. These coming weeks we will pray with such themes. We can reflect upon our having been washed, incorporated into his body the Church, but even more, we can pray for the openness to hear our names, hear our gifts and accept our missions.
We hear of a mysterious servant in today’s First Reading. Many prophets as well as Israel itself saw themselves as servants of the Lord. This is the first of the four “Servant Songs” in Isaiah and this particular person has been formed, called and charged with very specific missions.
This Servant is to bring justice to the nations, but not damage anything or anybody who is weak or small. We Christians apply such texts to Jesus as the Messiah and he, himself, announces through his reading of this particular section, that he is the fulfillment of this prediction. Whoever this Servant is to be, his life was formed for labors which will be demanding and eventually lead him to conflict, contradiction and sufferings. The victory to which he is called in this reading will be over hearts and attitudes and so the battle for justice will be lengthy.
Three weeks ago, we were celebrating Luke’s account of Jesus’ becoming human. It was a private kind of entering the world. Last week’s liturgy celebrated Matthew’s account of how this privacy was beginning to be broken into with the arrival of the Three Wise Men. Today we hear Mark’s account of Jesus’ first entering into the public life for which he took flesh.
Years later, the Apostle Paul will write that Jesus became “obedient.” This often-misunderstood word literally means, “Listening-to.” He has lived a life of listening to his religious traditions and laws and Mark in these very early verses of his Gospel, pictures Jesus as making a distinct and co-traditional turn. Jesus enters the waters of the Jewish tradition recalling the Jews escaping slavery through the waters of freedom. Jesus comes up out of the water fully a Jew and fully alive to his being called to live faithfully all that he has “listened to.” In a real sense this is Mark’s account of the Epiphany; Jesus is going public and his mission is to continue God’s covenantal relationship of love with the Jews and all ”the coastlands who will be waiting for his teaching.”
Jesus is ordained to listen by listening to the words that he is the beloved in whom God is well pleased. With these words God sends him as the New Israel to listen to those in prison, those afflicted, those who are poor and even those who resist and deny him.
We who have been immersed in Christ by being baptized are likewise ordained to listen to what God also says about us. If we are in Christ, then we belong to the “belovedness” with which God embraced the human Jesus. We are not divine, but divinely blest into a new identity which has a hook. If we believe who Jesus is and if we believe we are incorporated in him, then our coming out of the waters of freedom is the beginning of our listening to who he says we are. That’s the hook, because if we listen clearly to our being beloved in Christ, then we too are ordained to listen to all the calls and voices around us. Who we listen to will determine what we hear. What we listen to about ourselves will determine what we think of ourselves. What we think of ourselves will determine our attitudes about and actions for others.
Most likely, you know of a young man or woman whose attitudes towards themselves changed by their discovering that somebody liked them and even loved them. I think I know a fellow quite well, whose image of himself was alchemized by such an experience. Being loved opens more than hearts to life. Marian the Librarian, in the musical, “Music Man” sings that there were bells all around and birds singing, but she never heard them at all, “Till there was you.” Marty, in the movie of that name, thought he was ugly until he experienced love from a woman who thought she was even more ugly. They both came alive to all the life that was around them, because of something they were given inside of them.
We are baptized in the Christ who was baptized to hear, believe and live the truth of his identity. In him, we too are called to live our truth even in the face of rejection and conflict. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but his name for us only forms us. We are all ordained to listen, look around and stop hiding his going public.
“The Lord will bless his people with peace.” Psalm 29
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