Has this ever happened to you? You’ve walked down the same street day after day, and all of a sudden, you notice lovely artistic details on a building you pass and say to yourself “I’ve never seen that before!”
That’s the way I felt about a line in today’s Gospel from Matthew for the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus.
I had never seen it before!
John resisted baptizing Jesus. In fact, he refused. “No!” John said. “I should be baptized by you and yet you come to me.” Jesus didn’t coax him with theological arguments or persuasive rhetoric. Jesus did not tell John that he was missing an opportunity, nor did he chide John for his refusal. Jesus simply said “Give in for now.” Jesus encouraged John saying: “Give in for now.” (Other translations render the phrase “Allow it for now. ”or “Let it be so for now.”) “ We must do this”, Jesus insisted.. Not “I must do this but we must do this, if we would fulfill all that God requires.”
In this experience, John learned to see Jesus and life and his own call in a new way.
How often you and I find Jesus coming to us in new ways that are unseemly and we also resist. To experience Jesus in a difficult moment, we, too, must “ give in for now”: Be the first to patch up an argument. Work with a cantankerous colleague. Put personal plans on hold and minister to this ill person. Take up an unwanted responsibility. Give in for now.
The mystery of “why us” and “why now” and “why should it be this way at all” doesn’t go away.
But in giving in for now, we learn to live with mystery and the unexpected calls of God, which are not interruptions of life but life itself.
We not only learn from John, we learn from Jesus who goes down into the water, is cleansed, and takes to himself the sin of all humanity. When Jesus comes up, he is a tender, sensitive new creation, who, as Isaiah says, will not break the bruised reed or quench the smoldering wick. It was this Jesus, cleansed and newly committed to his mission to whom the voice of God says : “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”
This, too, is how we learn. We go down into the waters, let go of sin and self-centeredness and become a new creation in God. Only then we try not to break the bruised reed or put out the smoldering wick.
The challenge, the lesson, the hope of today’s celebration of the baptism of Jesus is that, like Him, we commit ourselves wholeheartedly to do God’s work.
Then, in some unexpected moment, in some startling way, we too will hear the words that urge us on:
“This is my beloved – in whom I am well pleased.”
-Sister Joan Sobala