Baptism of the Lord Year B Who Am I?
This Sunday’s gospel comes from Mark’s account of the baptism of Jesus. It was an extraordinary thing to see the heavens torn apart, the Spirit descend upon him, and a voice declaring that he was God’s Beloved Son. We are not told how others present reacted. Instead, we are told the Spirit drove him to the desert where he remained for 40 days. I suspect the Spirit led him to the desert to figure out the meaning of his baptism and what it meant for the rest of his life on earth. At the centre of our lives there is a tension. To do well in life, to eat, drink and be merry, or to be what God had in mind when we were born. Paul felt the conflict in spades when he wrote about a clash within him between where God was leading him and what his human instincts wanted – Romans 7, 14-20.
When I was about 18 years old and wondering about the future, my grandfather suggested to me to do something with my life that would be of service to others. There’s a tendency to feel life is about being all that I can be and acquire for myself and mine. Some discover along life’s path that there’s more to it than just me and mine. During the 40 days, Jesus would have come to realise and to accept he was in this world for something much larger than his own private reality. Shortly before his death he would remind his disciples that ‘the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life’ – Matt 20, 28. And he reminded his followers that greatness consisted not in being served but in being servants – Mark 7, 35-37. And comparing himself to a good shepherd he said, ‘I came that they may have life and have it to the full’ – John 10, 10.
Christian spirituality teaches that we receive by giving. The Prayer of St Francis says it well: ‘Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console…that I may not so much seek to be understood as to understand… not so much to be loved as to love. It is in giving that we receive…in pardoning that we are pardoned…’ We cannot make ourselves happy, but we can help to make others happy. St. Bernard used ask himself a searching question: ‘Bernard, Bernard, why are you here?’ How many ask themselves seriously, ‘Why am I a follower of Jesus?’ It dawned on me after a few years of asking myself why I was a priest that life is not about me and my pastoral and administrative achievements. My private sense of achievement and satisfaction is not the gold standard of my peace and contentment. I am who I am in order to serve others and to make life better for them.
‘You are my Son, the Beloved, my favour rests on you.’ These words spoken to Jesus are spoken to all the baptised. The Spirit in whom we are baptised will eventually lead us out of ourselves and our agendas, to the point where we make a personal choice to follow Jesus and be led by him. Allowing ourselves to be led by him we discover who God meant us to be. The Spirit shadows us through life and when we ‘hear’ the baptismal words for the first time that we are beloved of God and accepted by him, our fears and confusion dissolve, and the hope that was in Jesus becomes ours.