Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
“A lot of church-going people never really get baptized.”
This sentence jumped out at me from a very provocative article written by a Catholic priest.
What he was proposing was that we Catholics, we Christians in general, are seldom truly baptized people.
Yes, he admits, we’ve all gone through the ceremony. We’ve had the water poured over our heads. But then, he insists, way too many of us have gone on living our lives pretty much like everyone else. No real difference can be observed.
Here’s how he put it:
“True baptism is that moment when you get it, when you understand what your life’s purpose really is, when you get your meaning, when you wake up one morning and say to yourself: ‘I think I know what I was created for.’”
He goes on to say that true baptism is different from living life on “cruise control.” It’s different than just going through the motions of living: growing up, going to school, getting married, having children, getting a job. These are very important moments and valuable achievements in a person’s life.
But often they are just door openers to life’s next stage of “cruise control” living.
The author’s point is that often people never allow themselves to fall into that surrender that creates a different set of eyes – eyes that can see a deeper meaning to “what it’s really all about.”
The kind of baptism this priest writes about most often does not come in moments of achieving greatness. It usually happens when we are faced with experiences of failure, abandonment, betrayal, deep hurt, or sin.
The good news is that this kind of pain can bring gain – if we allow ourselves to be taught by it; if we allow ourselves to enter a deeper experience of God because of it.
When that happens, we are in effect joining Jesus in his plunge into the river Jordan, or, like St. Paul, falling from our horse of power and self-sufficiency on our own road to Damascus.
Again, the point this priest is trying to make is that true baptism involves much more than a ceremony of pouring water. Instead, it happens when you discover your soul and begin living out of that experience. It happens when you surrender to the magnitude of God’s love and allow it to be the deepest meaning of your life.
That’s when you’re baptized.
And that’s exactly what happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth. He was 30 years old at the time. He’d lived a bit, perhaps failed a bit. And then “it” happened.
Each of the gospel writers tried to communicate this major transformation within Jesus by describing the opening of the heavens, the appearance of a dove and the words “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” issuing from the clouds.
In today’s gospel reading, though, John adds something very different. He tells of John the Baptist giving Jesus a title not found anywhere else in the gospels:
“The Lamb of God.”
This “lamb” sent by God amazingly begins his ministry not with a sermon or a series of directives or even a question of what they want from him.
Rather, his very first words in John’s gospel of John are these:
“What are you looking for?”
Jesus begins his ministry with a question.
The answer Jesus receives from his very first disciples is also unusual.
Instead of asking something from Jesus, they instead ask where he dwells, where he “lives” in his innermost heart.
That’s where true baptism takes place: inside a heart willing to change, inside a heart willing to serve, inside a heart open to prayer.
Then Jesus, the Lamb of God, little by little begins to tell us about the kind of God with whom he has become fully united. He tells those first disciples, and even now, you and me, that God is not to be viewed in terms of spectacular power and majesty. Instead, God invites each of us into a dwelling place so safe and liberating that we will be able to say openly, like Samuel in today’s first reading:
“Speak, for your servant is listening.”
God, John’s gospel insists, is to be seen as a lamb: gentle, meek, tender – a lamb who opposes the misuse of power, a lamb who joins us in our agonies and our terrors, a lamb that signifies our response to Jesus’ first words spoken to us:
“What are you looking for?”
In response to the question Jesus asked his first two disciples, and now asks each of us in our Baptism, and in our reception of the holy Eucharist, Jesus offers an invitation:
Immerse ourselves again and again in the water that allows us to be truly baptized and re-makes us into gentle followers of the Lamb of God.
Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.