The Baptism of the Lord: Passion for justice

The Baptism of the Lord: Passion for justice

Isaiah 42, 1-4.6-7; Acts 10, 34-38; Luke 3, 15-16.21-22.

Scripture throughout inspires a capacity to transform the world which seems never to transpire in the way we project and live our religion. Today’s celebration of the baptism of the Lord is a case in point. There seems to be no connection at all between what baptism in our jargon stands for and God’s passion for justice as portrayed today in the first reading by the prophet Isaiah. This is exactly the tragedy of Christianity’s failure in this day and age to reconcile Christian living with the task of changing reality.

The gospel distinguishes clearly between the baptism of John the Baptist and that of Jesus. The former was still in the framework of the old religion, linked to personal conversion, to the forgiveness of sins and the observance of religious traditions. The latter is an anointing with the Holy Spirit and represents a discontinuity with all that the old religion stood for.

When Jesus was baptised, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him as the Beloved on whom God’s favour rests. A new time was inaugurated when God’s universality was proclaimed. Through Christ, we were all indiscriminately given the possibility of becoming God’s Beloved and of experiencing His favour.

In today’s reading from Acts, it is amazing how, it was only when he met Cornelius, a pagan centurion, that Peter, head of the Twelve, finally grasped the big truth. It was Cornelius who made Peter come to his senses and understand how humane the face of God is. Jesus, unlike John the Baptist, “does not break the crushed reed, nor quench the wavering flame”.

Peter realised that religion should eliminate rather than create barriers. God’s Spirit is free, and always creative as it has been since the beginning of creation. It is the same Spirit who continues to bring forth justice in the world precisely where justice seems unreachable for us. That same Spirit made manifest at the baptism of Jesus is the Spirit of hope who, as the prophet Isaiah says, “will neither waver, nor be crushed until true justice is established on earth”.

In the face of immense global suffering, we continue to be provoked to raise the same old questions about God’s existence, love and mercy, while our language, liturgies and argumentation sound miserably inadequate to fill the abyss in our heart and to satisfy those searching for the truth. We have spiritualised too much our religion and our relationship with God to the extent that religion very easily and comfortably remains on the fence of the world scenario.

Immediately after Vatican Council II, the Church was becoming more aware that action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world was part and parcel of our preaching the Gospel. That, in much of what we perpetuate, seems to have been diluted.

When our preaching and proclamation of God’s Word in our communities fails to prophetically evoke God’s passion for justice in the world, something important is lost. God’s kingdom is not first and foremost a spiritual reality but rather it is the flourishing of our humanity. In today’s Scripture readings, there is a different way of understanding the link between faith and human flourishing. It is in Jesus Christ that we can have a deep grasp of our own humanity.

Very often for us, as for Israel at the time of Isaiah and at the time of Jesus, the hard facts around us become exasperating. We continue to celebrate our faith in Jesus as redeemer, and in the Spirit as Lord of life, with a deep sense of hopelessness and impotence. God’s standpoint provides a different version of the world as we experience it. On the footsteps of Peter in Acts today, it is that standpoint that we need to dig and recover from a fruitful and positive engagement with the world we inhabit.

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