Thursday, January 7, 2010

Baptism of the Lord - Jesus's "Job Description" - and Ours

If God asked you today to participate in a "performance evaluation" of whether you are fulfilling your baptismal call, how would you measure up?  This Sunday we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord - an opportunity to reflecta again on the meaning of our own baptism as we listen again to the familiar gospel reading from the 3rd chapter of Luke about John the Baptist baptizing Jesus, in which we hear the voice of God saying “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” 

Notice that the first reading (first choice) from Isaiah fleshes this sentiment out even more fully: 
"Thus says the LORD: Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street. A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench, until he establishes justice on the earth; the coastlands will wait for his teaching.  I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness." (Isaiah 42: 1-4, 6-7)

This seems, in fact, to be in fact a "job description" for the one God is sending. The elements of this job description are clear: to bring forth justice, teach all over the world, be a sign of the covenant, be light to the nations and to the blind, free prisoners, and do all of this quietly, faithfully, inevitably, without shouting on street corners. Notice that the form of address in the Isaiah text changes in mid-stream - from proclamation to the world of who the chosen one is, to addressing the chosen one directly, calling him to the fullness of his mission.

And, when we were baptized into Christ Jesus' life and death, it became our mission too. So it is that the quiet heroes often are the ones who are raised up by the Church as saints and holy ones. St. Therese of Lisieux with her "Little Way", St. Damian of Molokai, who worked to free the lepers from their darkness and suffering, Mother Theresa, who picked up the sick and dying from the gutters, and many others whose lives were quiet, faithful, but other-centered.

For the rest of us, we participate in the mission when we evangelize by word or deed in the midst of our daily lives. We participate when we work for justice, teach others about faith, and offer our hand to help lead someone out of a dark place. For most of us, it is a lifelong effort to live up to this calling, but it is a worthy effort, because it asks of us that we give our best in service of others - even at the cost of self  (Paragraph 75 of the RCIA names that as one of the attributes of the kind of disciple the process is aiming to create.)

So, this weekend, as you hear the readings, listen - really listen - and then ask yourself how you would measure up if you were asked for a performance evaluation. Maybe it's as simple as the Ignatian examen: ask yourself when you have cooperated with God, and when you have failed... and resolve, with God's help, to do better.

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