by Jeremiah Bartram on 09/01/11 at 7:08 pm
Sunday, January 9, 2011 – The Baptism of the Lord.
This is always a mysterious feast – the question always being why Jesus, the perfect one who had no need of any rites of repentance, should submit to the baptism of John.
In today’s version (Matthew’s) John argues with Jesus, effectively telling him that he didn’t need to be baptized. But Jesus insists. And the unexpected result: a voice from heaven declaring that Jesus is God’s son, in whom he is well pleased.
So it’s Jesus’ coming out event.
I’ve thought before (and argued) that he himself did not anticipate the outcome: that heavenly voice identifying him as the One, the beloved, the Son; that he followed his own private inspiration in seeking and insisting on baptism.
The result, possibly to his own surprise, confirmed his own sense of call – but in a public way.
He learned, as the experiential Jesus continually learns. And then he retired to the desert to process this life-changing event, and underwent temptation of various kinds.
But somehow this interpretation does not take away the mystery. Maybe it even increases it. Because the incarnation is mysterious, as any intervention of God in human life is mysterious and somehow gratuitous, as any vocation is mysterious – and somehow gratuitous.
(Last post, drawing on an insight from last year’s journal, I suggested that gay sex was gratuitous in an evolutionary sense, like music, like fun, like comedy. Am I now suggesting that vocations, being gratuitous, are like gay sex? I don’t think I’ll go there, at least not tonight.)
But setting aside the continual puzzle of Jesus, the perfect one, seeking baptism – this is a day to consider my own ‘vocation’ as a Christian.
That is sometimes a discouraging subject – because it’s all so unclear.
There are people in this world – so I am told – who know exactly what they want to accomplish in this brief life, and do it.
I don’t know whether to envy them or not. But my life isn’t like that. It’s messy and confused. I keep trying new doors, testing new paths: knock and it will be opened to you, seek and you will find. So it’s not linear, and it’s not logical, and I can’t sum it up in one brisk sentence: ‘Oh I knew from the age of 12 that I wanted to be a writer, so now I have the Nobel.’
Could something so very ad hoc be a vocation?
Maybe it’s just a wasted life.
So I was thinking about all this as I walked the dog this afternoon. We have six inches of powdery snow right now, and bright sun; the wind is keen and cold. It’s our desert season, and it’s beautiful.
We don’t know what waste is, I thought.
All we can do – all we are called to do – in fidelity to our own baptism – is be faithful to the call of God each day, each moment.
To ask, to listen, to discern – and to act.
Without worrying about the outcomes; the outcomes are things we can’t control; they are the things we have to leave (in faith) to God.
So don’t worry if it’s messy, or confused, or contradictory. Rather, worry if I find myself out of touch, going off on my own, no longer asking, listening, discerning, acting.
That was my thought.