Today's Wisdom

Those who do not pass from the experience of the cross to the truth of the resurrection condemn themselves to despair! For we cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power
Pope Francis

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Baptism of a Naked God

[As the people were in expectation, and all men questioned in their hearts concerning John, whether perhaps he were the Christ, John answered them all, "I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into his granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." So, with many other exhortations, he preached good news to the people. But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother's wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, added this to them all, that he shut up John in prison. Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."] (Luke 3:15-22).

In contemporary Biblical scholarship, Luke presents here his theme of the universality of salvation. John the Baptist urges the crowds to reform their social conduct in anticipation of the public ministry of the Messiah. Note also how Luke finds Jesus praying at every major key moment in his mission. Jesus prays here at his own baptism. He also prays before feeding the crowds; before the temptations; at the Last Supper with the Apostles; in the Garden of the Mount of Olives before being betrayed; and while crucified on the cross for those who crucified him and his "enemies."

The Holy Spirit is the life that gives life and the fire that gives light. This is why he descended as tongues of fire on the early church. In the ancient tradition the dove was considered the creature that flies up to the highest sky to bring down peace from heaven. The Holy Spirit descended upon Christ in bodily form as a dove because he brings heaven to earth. And the Father's voice reminds the readers of the "beloved Son" in Psalms (Psalms 2: 7) and in the Father's testimony to Christ in Christ's own transfiguration (Luke 9: 35).

For Origen (Origenus), the famed Biblical scholar of the 3rd century, the baptism of John the Baptist belonged with the Old Testament symbols as a shadow; baptism in the church is the image; and the eschatological baptism of fire and the final conforming to the resurrection of Christ are mystery (Cf. Jean Daniélou, La Table Ronde, 1948). The above themes are related to the providential unfolding of God's will in history to save humanity. Baptism is the crossing from slavery in Egypt to the freedom of God's people - a people enslaved to the tyranny of sin. St. Paul relates baptism to the faithful's  journey into the resurrection as he writes to the Colossians "and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead." (Colossians 2: 12).

But an astonishing interpretation of the eschatological meaning of Christ's baptism is found in Henri Boulad, S.J. A couple of weeks ago, in his homily on Christ's baptism, Fr. Henri Boulad, S.J. commented on the baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire (homily in French here). He said that Jesus was born naked, was baptized naked, and was crucified naked. In all the key moments of his mission, Christ is naked (nude).

Is this our God, a naked God? It is written by St. John the Evangelist that "God is love" (1 John 4:8). St. Augustine explores this revolutionary concept of God in a rational thought. According to him, as explained by Henri Boulad, if God is love then he must love another from eternity. The Father empties himself of his divinity - his all - and gives it to the Son. The Son receives it with gratitude but like his Father does not keep it to himself - everything is given back to his Father. The Holy Spirit is the unlimited force or energy of love that binds the Father and the Son in the One God (see here). Emptied of oneself, God is nude...God is naked..God the Son submits himself in love to God the Father. Emptied of oneself is the character of God and the attribute of true love.

A couple who are truly experiencing joy in their love for one another feel "lost in love". When a married couple are each nude in their bed, they are telling each other: I am all yours -Take me as I am. This is the same movement by which God accepts each of us as she is and purifies her from within. The sexual intimacy of a married couple expresses the desire of each of them to be distinctive yet together-in-one. This is a reflection of the deep Trinitarian reality that encompasses the entire expanding universe (see Quantum Synthesis here). A little smile of a child turns his mother, however initially upset, to carry him, because love connects members of families and people and connects them with God whose Spirit moves them to repent and return to him.

In the prevailing fear in the world today, we need understanding and communication. We really need solidarity especially that we are praying these days for Christian unity. We are made to be relational. This is why the God of Christians cannot be shelved.  It is constant prayer that initiates in us a dialogue with God.  Our baptism is only the beginning as his baptism was only the beginning of his public and missionary life!

Today's Quote

"Behold I make all things new." (Revelation 21:5)


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