Sunday, January 12, 2014

Looking Through 3D Glasses

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

Picture: cc MIKI Yoshihito

Sisters and brothers, have you ever watched a 3D movie? It’s been quite a while since I watched one myself. But, if I remember correctly, there is a piece of equipment that no 3D moviegoer can do without. Something that the cinema distributes as you enter the auditorium. You know what I’m talking about. I’m referring, of course, to 3D glasses. Those special spectacles that every viewer has to put on, in order to enjoy the full 3D movie experience. Spectacles that are needed even if you already happen to be wearing your own prescription glasses–as I am–or contact lenses. And the reason is quite simple. Without those special glasses, all you will see on the screen is a series of blurry images. But when you put on the glasses, the movie comes alive for you. The 3D effect makes you feel as though you are actually part of the scene itself. The glasses make all the difference. Between obscurity and clarity. Between frustration and enjoyment. Between detachment and involvement.

I mention this, because I think our Mass readings actually perform for us a similar function. They help us to see more clearly what we are celebrating today. Without our readings, we probably wouldn’t be able to enjoy the full impact of this Feast, which marks both an ending and a new beginning. The ending of the Christmas Season. And the beginning of Ordinary Time. If not for our readings today, our Feast will look like a series of blurry images. A scene that wouldn’t make much sense to us.

For we celebrate today the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. At a certain point in his adult life, Jesus takes the trouble to travel from his home in Galilee to the River Jordan, to be baptised by John. But we know that John’s baptism is for the forgiveness of sins. And, as Christians, we believe that Jesus, being the Son of God, is without sin. So why should the Sinless One insist on undergoing a ritual for the forgiveness of sins? Sisters and brothers, don’t you agree that this is a blurry image, a confusing scene, if ever there was one?

Thankfully, our readings help to clarify our vision. They help us to see what is actually happening. The better to immerse ourselves in the scene. And they do this in several ways. First, they show us that what initially looks like a sinner being converted, is actually something quite different. In the first reading, God speaks not of sinfulness, but of service. Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom my soul delights. This indicates to us that, Jesus’ Baptism isn’t so much an expression of a sinner’s sorrowful repentance from sin, as a servant’s humble obedience to God’s will for him. And God’s will is that he be gentle with God’s people. That he not break the crushed reed, nor quench the wavering flame. But that he show the people boundless mercy and great compassion. Even to the extent of becoming one of them. Becoming one of us. Isn’t this what Jesus does in the gospel? By lowering himself into the same waters that we sinners use to wash ourselves, Jesus, the Sinless One, expresses his readiness to obey God’s will. His willingness to be one like us in all things. Even to the extent of immersing himself in our sinfulness. Suffering the terrible effects of our sin.

In this way, Jesus shows that he comes to us, not just as the  Servant of God, but also as our Servant as well. As our Servant and our Friend. Out of compassion for us, Jesus dives into the waters of our weak and vulnerable human condition. And he does this not just to be one with us, but also, and even more important, to set us free. For, as the first reading reminds us, this too is his mission. This too is what God sends him to do. To open the eyes of the blind, to free captives from prison, and those who live in darkness from the dungeon.

Which leads us to another way in which our readings help to clarify our vision. For the gospel tells us that something truly dramatic happens as soon as Jesus emerges from the waters of the Jordan. After completing his symbolic act of obedience and submission, of solidarity and compassion, we’re told that the heavens open, the Holy Spirit descends, and the voice of God is heard. This is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on him. What is the gospel doing, sisters and brothers, if not revealing to us a clearer picture of what is actually happening?

What looks at first like a sorrowful sinner turning his life around on earth, is really God’s only begotten Son turning the keys that open for us the gates of heaven. Transforming for us the waters of repentance into waters of adoption. Showing us how, if we but follow in his footsteps, we too can become children of God. We too can enjoy God’s favour. For, as the second reading reminds us, God does not have favourites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him. Anyone who follows the example of Jesus. Anyone willing to lower herself in service of God and of humanity. Anyone willing to serve the cause of right. To devote her life to going about doing good. Such a one will experience the heavens open for her, the Holy Spirit descending upon her, the voice of the Father affirming her: You are my beloved daughter, in you I am well pleased!

But that’s not all. Our readings do not just help us to see more clearly, and to enter more deeply into, the Lord’s Baptism as a historical event that took place more than two thousand years ago. They also do the same with the ordinary events of our daily lives. Helping us to make sense of confusing situations. I’m reminded, for example, of that terribly tragedy reported in the news about a week or so ago. On the 26th of December, the day after Christmas Day, two men, both Chinese Nationals, were working in a leather dye factory, somewhere in Kampong Ubi, when one of them fell into a 3m high vat of dye. His colleague jumped in to try to save him. But they were both knocked unconscious by the noxious fumes in the vat. And both men died in hospital, after spending 9 days in a coma. Mr. Zhai Hailei, the one who tried to help his friend, was just 26 years old. He leaves behind a young widow and two daughters, aged one and five.

Sisters and brothers, which of us would not be moved by this sad tale? Which of us would not find it heartbreaking and confusing. And yet, doesn’t this story look different when seen through the lenses of the Lord’s Baptism? Doesn’t Mr. Zhai’s selfless act in Kampong Ubi–jumping into a vat full of noxious fumes to save his friend–bear more than a passing resemblance to what Jesus does in the Jordan River? I don’t know if Mr. Zhai was Christian. But even if he wasn’t, perhaps it’s still not too farfetched to imagine that, when he passes through the gates of death, and emerges on the other side of eternity, he too will hear our merciful God saying to him: You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased!

Sisters and brothers, it is fitting that the Baptism of the Lord is the Feast that ushers us into Ordinary Time. For, if we celebrate it well, this Feast can help us to make sense of confusion in our ordinary lives. It can enable us uncover opportunities to enter more deeply into the Mystery of God’s merciful love. To take advantage of occasions to live more faithfully, more selflessly, as true adopted sons and daughters of our heavenly Father.

Sisters and brothers, when you put on the 3D glasses of the Lord’s Baptism, and look at your life, what do see today?

1 comment:

  1. Dear Lord,

    On this Feast day of the Baptism of the Lord, please accept my sincere thanks for Your shining of Your LIGHT into my current life's situation.

    Thank You for the insight for me to walk along the ROAD LESS TRAVELLED - as it is only there that I will meet You - You who are present in the weak, the lowly and those who are most vulnerable in our society - for these weak and helpless people are the very people whom You love very dearly...

    Lord, thank you for this clarity and for this precious insight.

    Please lead me along Your way.

    Lord, as I walk with you along Your path, may I ask for the graces and the courage to obey You and to do only Your Will.

    Lord, thank You very much for the gift of this set of 3D glasses - thanks especially for the gradual unfolding of Your plans and Your will for me; as I continue to let You lead - as I walk on with You, on Your way.

    Come Lord, Jesus.

    O Lord, may YOU I--N--C--R--E--A--S--E, as I d-e-c-r-e-a-s-e. Amen.

    Seeing Is Believing


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