January 9, 2011
BAPTISM OF THE LORD (A)
Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. – Mt. 3: 15
Scripturally speaking, neither sin nor righteousness can be defined by a single act, either of commission or of omission. Rather, they define a pattern of behavior, a world view, so to speak, so that repentance is not a momentary event, but a complete reorientation of one’s life.
This can be illustrated by a quote from James Russell Lowell’s hymn:
Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide, in the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side; some great cause, God’s new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight, and the choice goes by forever ‘twixt that darkness and that light.
The word ‘decide’ comes from the Latin ‘decidere’ which means to cut off. Deciduous plants shed their leaves. In our case, it means to decide for something – to cut off the options. To take one path at a fork in the road is to cut off the option of taking the other.
When our Lord chose to be baptized by John, it wasn’t a solitary act. It was his formal renunciation for the rest of his life on earth of the old Adam, of the egotism & selfishness that defines all of us until we come to recognize something better in what our Lord has to offer. But this renunciation which we appropriate as our own is not something that can happen overnight, as it were. It will be a lifetime struggle. But so what? Why bother?
When the heavens are closed, God is inaccessible. The rending of the heavens at our Lord’s baptism signifies that God is now accessible to us. It wasn’t for His sake that He was baptized, but for ours. The commission given to our Lord at the Jordan is now ours. Our task is to be God’s beloved and to pass on to others what we have received in our own baptism. A tall order, you may say. Yes, indeed it would be if it were not for God’s grace that makes all things possible.
Jesus was blazing the trail for us, not just at the Jordan but by His whole life, death & resurrection. As we begin a new calendar year, we have a clear choice: to remain mired in the ways of the old Adam wherein greed, anger, cheating & lying are the norm, or directing our lives toward the new Adam who is the way, the truth & the life. Thankfully, we have our fellow baptized Christians to walk the path with us & sustain us in God’s love.
The Horatio Alger myth is not for us: we are not self-sufficient, able to pull ourselves up by our own boot-straps into heaven. We rely on each other & God to see us through. That is perhaps one of the more important aspects of today’s Gospel message. AMEN!