Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sunday word, 13 Jan 2013

Favored Bookends
The Lord’s Baptism C (13 Jan 2013)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
With the Feast of the Lord’s Baptism we close the Christmas season. I want to reflect with you on a word in the original language of Luke’s gospel that bookends the season.

Christmas allowed us to rejoice that in Jesus God became human for us. His birth fulfilled ages of longing for God’s gracious promise. Angels announced his birth to ritually impure people—to shepherds.1 The blood and death of sheep, which shepherds were in contact for long stretches, made them unfit to attend temple. We make shepherds more appealing than they were. They were not the only ritually impure ones, but they did an isolating work with property that did not belong to them. They were nearby where Jesus was born; God works in and through all creation not only those we approve or expect.

Jesus was born in an occupied land. In occupied Palestine the Romans crushed everyone’s liberty. People on the margins felt the conquerors’ crush more severely. Isolation from others and from celebrating their deepest aspiration with others in temple and synagogue did not help them cope. God favored them with the announcement of the birth of the Messiah: Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.2 It is not human favor, but God’s favor. Anyone can do a good turn. Humans tend to approve whom and what they like; God favors all. God favored the ritually impure shepherds, people others kept at a distance and looked at with disdain. And with whom did Jesus spend time? With those who were ritually impure and anyone marginalized by religious practice or by human measure. Jesus embodied what God through angels announced at Jesus’ birth: God favored the marginalized with a peace that registered as a security, confidence and tranquility humans could neither offer nor seize.

Before Jesus began his prophetic ministry of fulfillment, he was baptized. It was an ancient Jewish practice.3 Jesus’ baptism was his adult epiphany. As Luke recalled it we overheard God’s favor announced again. Better, we had a glimpse of an inner, personal experience of Jesus in communication we call prayer. Words hint at it. If we recall describing one of our nighttime dreams to another person, we recall we never communicate it as we experienced it; we can’t. We hint at our dream: it was like; as the dreamer I felt like; and when words fail us, we say, “You know how it is in dreams.”

So Jesus’ baptism. Its language of heaven was opened alerts us to no human activity but divine action. Its language of bodily form like a dove hints at the intense presence of God’s spirit experienced by Mary’s adult son. Its language of the holy Spirit descended on Jesus echoes the Spirit coming upon Mary: it overshadowed4 her, that is, abided with her wherever she was. At Jesus’ birth God favored those no none would expect, the ritually impure shepherds. As Jesus was about to begin his ministry God
confirmed God’s desire to fulfill the deepest human longings in and through his Son. Jesus would not overlook anyone others did: You are my beloved Son; I favor you. God’s favor is what the hearers of this gospel heard. It’s the same word: the verb as God spoke; the noun as angels announced God’s favor to those in great need of it.

Divine favor bookends the Christmas season: at its beginning, Jesus’ birth; at its commencement of the Sunday celebrations of the year, his baptism. The church celebrates Jesus’ birthday because his birth began the fulfillment of God’s promise for which people had long hoped.We celebrate his baptism which inaugurated how Jesus fulfilled God’s gracious promise. Though Christmas comes once a year, each and every day is our opportunity to bask in God’s favor: God in Jesus by their Spirit chooses us; our triune God desires us; our triune God desires to be our freedom from what binds us; our triune God desires we grow more alert to God favoring us so many ways. God favors us through people we least suspect not only those we do. We align ourselves with God’s favor as we continue growing as a community of disciples, who announce God’s favor to each person and our world by extending a still more inviting welcome to others wherever we may be.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Ask the Trinity to renew and deepen your sense of our triune God favoring you.
  • Ask Mary, Joseph and John the Baptizer to present you to Jesus to watch him be baptized for you.
  • As you watch chat with Jesus: express what rises on your heart as you watch him be baptized for you.
  • Beg for the grace to live your baptism with renewed courage and in inviting ways.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. It reminds us each time we say it Jesus desires us to model his inviting, welcoming way. His words, our daily bread, include his Spirit he gives us to do that.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

  1. Luke 2.9-15.
  2. Luke 2.14, the gospel at Christmas Mass During the Night.
  3. For example, see this Jewish Encyclopedia entry.
  4. Luke 1.35.
  5. The celebration of Jesus’ birth celebrates “the beginnings of our redemption” (Prayer over the Offerings, Vigil Mass of Christmas, Roman Missal).

Wiki-image of angelic announcement to shepherds used by {PD-old-100}. Wiki-image of an icon of the baptism of Jesus is in the public domain.

No comments: