Jan. 10, 2021 |Mary Elizabeth Schweiger, OSB
There is story about a Presbyterian pastor in Chicago named Sarah. A 10 year-old boy in her congregation named Cameron, walked into her office coming from soccer practice and wearing his Cincinnati Reds baseball cap said he needed to talk to her. She invited him in and he began, “We were learning about Jesus’ baptism in Sunday School. The teacher asked the class who was baptized, and all the other kids raised their hands. I want to be baptized too.”
Using her best pastoral care tone of voice, she said, “Cameron, do you really want to be baptized just because everyone else is?” His freckles winked up at her and he replied, “No. I want to be baptized because it means I belong to God.”
She was touched by his understanding. “Well, then,” she said, “How about this Sunday?” His smile turned to concern and he asked, “Do I have to be baptized in front of all those people in the church? Can’t I just have a friend baptize me in the river?” A little startled she asked where he came up with that idea. “Well, Jesus was baptized by his cousin John in a river, wasn’t he?” Caught off guard, she conceded, “You have a point. But, if a friend baptizes you in the river, how would the church recognize it?” “I guess by my new way of living” he said.
(Paraphrased from a sermon by Sarah Jo Sarchet preached at Forth Presbyterian Church in Chicago.)
This simple little story contains a profound truth. Our Baptism calls us to a new way of living and being. As the events of the week have unfolded, we are faced with many challenges as we confront the evil in ourselves and in our world. We are a nation in need of repentance and a change of heart. The violence, confusion, anger, hatred, destruction stemming from the insurgents at our nation’s capital in which our democracy was threatened calls for a response. The 4,000 deaths in one day due to the corona virus calls us to be persistent in wearing masks and in social distancing even though we have begun the vaccination process. The racial injustices that happen on a daily basis, the white supremacy that keeps showing its ugly head, our environment being destroyed by greed and carelessness calls for us to deepen our prayer life and to live more simply and intentionally.
The Gospel for today has some wisdom for us. John had just come out of the desert and is confronted with a world filled with evil, a misuse of power and greed. Humanity was in need of the forgiveness of sins and a change of heart. He preached a baptism of repentance. He proclaims that there was one mightier than he that was coming after him whose sandal he was not worthy to take off. A simple, prayerful and humble man who knew who he was and desired to do what God was asking him to do.
In our scripture reading, Jesus comes to the river to be baptized by John. We know this baptism was not necessary because Jesus was without sin. Why then does he do this? Jesus makes the decision to say yes to his Father and to immerse himself totally in our humanity, to take on our sins and to become one with us. A big decision and his first public act.
His Father affirms that decision. On coming up out of the water, Jesus saw the heavens torn open, and the Spirit, like a dove descending upon him. He heard a voice, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” This is a message for Jesus not the crowd. He doesn’t say: “This is my beloved son but speaks directly to Jesus: you are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased. That must have been a very powerful experience for Jesus. I think Jesus really needed to hear those words of affirmation from his Father. He needed to know in the very core of is being that he was loved by his Father, that his Father was pleased with him, that his Father would be with him here on earth as he carried out his mission. After this powerful event, Jesus goes into the desert. He has 40 days to fast, to reflect, and to assimilate into his life what this ritual of baptism meant to him. He needed to hear his Father voice to give him the strength to carry out His will.
We need John the Baptist to appear to us today and preach to us his message of repentance, of a change of heart, of turning away from sin and evil. Wouldn’t you like to image John the Baptist at the steps of the capital with those thousands of people? What might he say to them, to us? But more importantly we need to hear the words that come to us from God the Father.
Each of us have been called to Baptism and have received the Spirit of God. We have become adopted daughters of God, the sisters of Jesus. Our commitment through our monastic vows intensifies this baptism call. We are the beloved of God. Hopefully each one of us have heard and experienced the Father words: “You are my Beloved, you have found favor with me, you are precious in my eyes, unique, glorious and I love you.” Hearing God say: “with you I am well pleased.” gives us the strength, courage, and energy, we need to live our Baptism call, our monastic profession to the fullest.
Lent will be upon us in the near future and with Jesus we are called into the desert to reflect on this profound mystery. In some ways we have been in the desert for the last 10 months. May our desert time continue to prepare us for what is ahead and give us all that we need to face our weak and sinful humanity. We are indeed beloved and like Cameron, may we be recognized by our new way of being.