Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Jan. 13, 2012 (BaptismofLordC)
By Fr. John Foley, S. J.
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This Sunday marks the formal end of our Christmas season. Jesus' early life is now sufficiently celebrated. His public life comes next, and his baptism — today — begins it.
I know, I know, Christmas has been over for ages now and we are making ready for easter eggs or something like that. But the Church has good sense and lets us celebrate Christmas for a large number of weeks after it happens instead of just ripping down decorations and going on to the next thing. Good for the Church.
So, what about Jesus' public life? In the Gospel we hear the voice of God the Father speaking to Jesus. This only happens twice in the Gospels, and both times it is the same message.
“You are my beloved Son; in you I am well pleased” (Gospel).
Who would not want to hear these words over and over? The beloved of God. It is candy and circuses and ice cream and all your favorite things. God has settled upon you as his special one. Everything will be fine.
Except that this is not the real meaning of Beloved. Let me show you in a story.
I was visiting a Jesuit friend of mine in Washington D. C., Pete, who is a prankster. He was in the kitchen cooking up something, I forget what; maybe spaghetti made from scratch. Icky mess.
I asked him for some kind of information or other and he said “I don’t know, but we can ask Joe.” Joe was another Jesuit who on that Saturday was working at his job at the Jesuit Conference building. My friend put the kitchen phone on its speaker and floured in the phone number.
Joe picked up and my friend said “hi, how are you doing.” Joe said “just great.” Pete said, “how wonderful, since you are spending your weekend working.”
Joe came back semi-humorously and said, “No it is ok. God told me everything was going to be fine.”
Pete said back without skipping a beat, “Yeah, that’s what he told his Son,”
I was on the floor laughing at such a funny, quick, piercing reply, delivered seemingly with no forethought at all.
Well, that is how Pete is. And it is also the way God is; not the jokester part, but the toleration of pain and suffering in his beloved. This is the other side of being loved by God.
In one way it makes no sense at all. Wouldn’t you do anything to keep your loved ones from suffering? Yes, so would I. Then what is wrong with God that he seems to visit hardship especially on those he loves well?
Jesus’ variety of suffering begins immediately after he hears God’s consoling voice at baptism. He goes to the desert to ponder what he has heard. He receives huge, slick temptations that beckon him to employ his newly discovered status as beloved in order to build up earthly power and honor. Directly and deeply contrary to his mission, of course, but God lets it happen.
Why? God is like a parent watching his teenager’s growing pains. Help all you can, but definitely do not try to stop the growing. Suffering and temptation confront us always, and they present the urgent need to grow, to broaden our scope, to understand better what love is, to see that love does not mean God taking charge and making everything alright but rather it means him staying with the beloved, continuing to love and admire that special one, no matter what is grinding him down.
So this is what Jesus actually had heard at the Jordan. Receive love that never runs away, never lets go, even in the desert, even on the cross.