Written by: Father Jim Chern
Montclair State University
So you get a phone call - it’s your Mom, or your Dad or maybe its your grandma or grandpa - whoever it is - someone who’s important to you. They’re all excited because their schedule has cleared, they have a free afternoon and they want to stop by to see you.
Not that you’re not happy to see them. It’s just that - well, you’re home, your apartment, your room (your bathroom) it’s not exactly clean… Yeah that vacuuming you put off, the recycling that needed to go out that’s been piling up - the laundry basket with clothes unfolded, the bed that’s unmade. Yeah, the place is far from “presentable”. And so you try to do whatever you can to postpone the visit or come up with alternate plans, “Why don’t we meet at the diner, my treat!” - anything so this guest won’t see your mess.
Even if the person is someone we love and who loves us, for the most part we’re embarrassed for them to see things in such a disheveled shape. We don’t want people to enter into our less-than-perfect environments.
Today’s Gospel and this feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a somewhat confusing one for many people. We have to remember that the baptism being described here wasn’t the sacrament we received when we came into the Church. It was John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance. It was John’s way of saying to people, “Look, someone important is coming to visit you- coming to stay with you - coming to your place, your home - so you might want to get things in order - straighten some things out - get right to receive this important guest.” And so he offers them this baptism of water as he calls it - a cleansing ritual meant to challenge his listeners to turn away from their sins to change their lives.
What is more confusing to us is who comes right on the scene. Who drops by among the crowds? Who is there on line with everyone else (and not cutting in front)? Jesus comes and is part of the line of people to be baptized, even though he doesn’t need it. The voice of God is heard identifying the special guest, “YOU ARE MY BELOVED SON IN WHOM I AM WELL PLEASED.” That’s one way God the Father kind of said Jesus didn’t need this baptism.
So what’s the point? It was Jesus’ way of expressing the loving way he wished to rule God’s Kingdom. Jesus would not be scandalized by the sins that needed to be forgiven. Jesus would not be looking at the crowds with disgust for the messes they had in their lives. He would get in line with them - raising the dignity of what they were doing. Telling them far from being failures, in their willingness to acknowledge their messes and desiring to turn away from them - the prospect that they too could become God’s beloved sons and daughters was in their reach.
If we think about it, it seems that throughout the Church year there’s always this constant call to conversion, to repentance, to turn our lives around - over and over. We hear it in Advent as a call to “prepare the way of the Lord.” We hear it in Lent as we reflect on the incredible mercy of God and how through Jesus’ passion and death we have been forgiven and saved from our sins and the death they would otherwise cause. That’s done on purpose because we are in constant need of conversion. Jesus comes to us daily - not to judge us or condemn us but to raise us to the dignity of being God’s beloved son s and daughters. He knocks on the doors of our hearts wanting to come in, not just to visit but to make a home there.
Are we too embarrassed or ashamed to let him in because we don’t want him to see the messes that are there? Let’s listen to John’s message and start ‘preparing’, start getting ready for Christ to enter into our (often unruly) lives - and, knowing that he loves us as we are even as he calls us to greater perfection - stand back and let him do the rest.