Sunday marks the formal end of the Church’s Christmas season. Jesus' birth has now been celebrated sufficiently. His public life comes next and his baptism begins it.
I know, I know, it seems like Christmas has been over for ages and we are making ready for Easter eggs or whatever else. But the Church has had the sense to gave us a Christmas season of weeks instead of days to rip down decorations and go on to the next thing. Good for the Church.
So, what about Jesus' public life, beginning with Baptism? In the Gospel we hear the voice of God the Father speaking to him. This only happens twice in the Gospels, though Jesus talks to his Abba often. Both times it is the same message from God:
You are my beloved Son; in you I am well pleased (Gospel).
Who would not want to hear these words over and over? The beloved of God! It is like having candy and circuses and ice cream and all your favorite things. God has settled upon you as his special one. Everything will be fine.
Except that “being fine” is not the real meaning of beloved.
Let me illustrate with a story.
I was visiting a Jesuit friend of mine in Washington D. C., Pete, who is a prankster. He was in the kitchen cooking up homemade spaghetti. Icky mess.
I asked him what time we were due to be somewhere, and he said “I don’t know, but we can ask Joe.” Joe was another Jesuit who on that Saturday was working at his job at the Jesuit Conference building. My friend put the kitchen phone on its speaker and floured in the phone number.
Joe answered and Pete said, “hi, how are you doing, Joseph?” Joe said, “just great.”
Pete said, “how wonderful, since you are spending your weekend working.”
Joe came back semi-humorously and said, “No it is ok. God told me everything was going to be fine.”
Without skipping a beat Pete said, “Yeah that’s what he told his Son.”
I was on the floor laughing at such a quick, piercing reply, delivered seemingly with no forethought at all.
But notice what is behind that joke. God does in fact tolerate pain and suffering in his beloved son, on the cross. This is the other side of being the beloved of God.
Jesus had heard that he was the beloved and had gone to the desert to ponder. Maybe by now he saw the implications. The devil helped him by offering huge, slick temptations: build up your earthly power and honor, use your now public status as “Beloved.” Be big, like me.
This was directly and deeply contrary to his mission, of course, but God let the temptations happen.
Why? Well, God is like a parent watching a teenager’s growing pains. Help all you can, but definitely do not stop the growing. The temptation and suffering create an urgent need for a person to open up, to broaden scope, to understand better what love is, to see that love does not mean God taking charge and making everything alright, but rather it means his staying with you, the beloved, continuing to love and admire you, since love at its root means sharing another’s life, not taking it over.
To paraphrase the Father’s words at the Jordan: Receive my love that never runs away, never lets go, even in the desert, even on the cross.
John Foley, SJ
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