Sunday, 20 January 2013

Baptism of the Lord Year C

 There seems to be an anti-climax to the feast we are celebrating today because Ordinary Time gives the impression that we are heading for the mundane—a return to humdrum and yet, the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan leans towards the majestic as it is a continuation of the theophany, a manifestation of God in Christ to the world.
Once again, heaven splits open with a voice that comes from within announcing that the Christ was not just the anointed one but also the beloved Son of God. The Baptism also signals the beginning of Christ’s public life.
What implications does the Baptism have for baptised Christian? Let me begin with a phenomenon which many of us are only too familiar with: there is no such thing as a free lunch. In a free lunch, we seem to be getting more than we asked for but in actual fact, we often need to pay for more than we bargained for. The very fact that I began by asking the question of implication suggests that I am working out of this model of “no such thing as a free gift” and we are expected to pay somehow. Thus, in a sense, the approach to the baptism of Christ appears to come from the perspective of guilt—a kind of guilt that we need to pay somehow. Since He began His public ministry at the baptism, I supposed we may be guilt-tripped to believing that through our baptism, we too are called to embrace His public mission; not that embracing His public mission is anything wrong.
This is well and good but I believe also it misses an important point. Let me take it slowly from here. I remember that the Ethiopian famine burst into the international scene in 1984 or thereabout. Then, it galvanised the entertainment personalities into spear-heading the international relief work for East Africa. Band Aid, led by both Bob Geldof and Midge Ure started with “Do they know it’s Christmas”. Later, this movement engendered a similar drive on the side of the Americans, USA for Africa. Anyway, the point is this: images broadcasted to the world included hungry faces and emaciated bodies. What was more? “And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time”. All with intent of evoking a sense of pity but more likely they effected a sense of guilt; a guilt that drove the world in search for a quick solution to the problem of hunger in Ethiopia, in particular and in Africa, in general.
Guilt is a good force but its strength is also ephemeral simply because its efficacy is dependent on how conscientious one remains. As long as one’s conscience is solid, it will produce the result it intends but when one’s conscience is overcome by apathy, then guilt does nothing more than it evokes a feeling of discomfort. To be fair, many of us have been shamed to action at one time or another. How many of us have been shamed to donate out of guilt, especially when at Church, one of those fund-raisers comes to hawk their premier show tickets? But shaming to action can only do so much especially when it is not accompanied by conversion and conviction.
So, how do we embrace Christ’s mission if not through guilt?
The Gospel presents us with the answer. It is called sonship by adoption. Christ the sinless one underwent baptism as His great act of solidarity with humanity. The Son of God set aside all His prerogatives in order that we might find a footing before the Father. For that, we become sons and daughters of God the Father.
“This is my beloved Son”, the voice from heaven is confirmation of our adoption. Any impetus we have must come from an appreciation that we are beloved children of God. We are good and become better because of that. Anything good that can flow from us flows from a profound appreciation that we are beloved of the Father. Hence, our actions must bear with it the reality of God’s love. It was the love of the Father that impelled Christ to embark on the journey to save the humanity and the ultimate test of His love was His death on the Cross.
And this is where we must cross the Rubicon of “self-love”. We have been quite spoilt by the Gospel of self-love. It is love, God’s love and our response in love, and not guilt that guides out action in life. However, a reason why our response in love might be putative or half-hearted lies in the way we have corrupted God’s love for us. In a sense, we can never love others if we do not first love ourselves. But, this self-love is emboldened to a certain extent by an image of God who loves us to the point of helplessness. The Father who loves us can only look indulgently at us whilst tut-tutting us for our sins. After all, He is a loving Father.1 The corrective to our self-indulgent image of God is corrected by Christ who, right after His baptism, was driven into the desert. We often think that Christ loved the Father through His sacrifice on the Cross but the contrary is also true. God the Father loved the Son enough to sacrifice Him so that we might be saved.
The test of our baptism and our following of Christ will come in this form: We will be persecuted and there will be suffering in our lives. Our baptism sets us on this road of conversion and conviction. Anyone who is baptised believes that after baptism, life will be easier, has been baptised into some kind of delusion. Ultimately, it was not the mission that determined how Christ behaved but instead, it was the Son who determined how the mission was to be. This is where baptism becomes ours to cherish. Through baptism we become God's children and because we deeply appreciate who we are, hence, our mission is to venture into the world to shape it according to whom we are as God's children, no matter how hard the journey may be.

1 We hear it all the time. God is with us. Yes, it may be a corollary of the Emmanuel. However, the question we never ask is, not that we can ever be on par with God, are we with God?