As you were baptized

Today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, it makes me recall the words of Revelation 19:16 where the expression “King of kings, Lord of lords” is spoken of Jesus in his second coming. But did you notice that the word “king” is hardly mentioned in our readings today. It is used once in the gospel, not at all in the other readings. Odd, don’t you think? But then again, “He will sit upon his glorious throne…” are the words in the opening verse of our gospel – rather “kingly” I would think.

The idea of kingship fills Scripture. We speak of the kingdom of God and who can forget King David of Israel. But did you ever wonder how Israel got a king? Abraham, the father of all believers – not a king. Moses – not a king. The great judges and leaders of Israel, Sampson and Deborah – not kings. So where did the idea of king come from? That is an interesting story, told in 1 Sam 8: “Israel gets a king.”

The Lord had always watched out and cared for Israel, raising up great leaders when needed – like Moses and the Judges. But the people of Israel got tired of instability and this ebb and flow of anointed leaders, and so one day they ask the last of the judges, Samuel, to go to God and ask for a king – so they can be – not God’s people – but people like other people. Reluctantly Samuel does. God tells Samuel, this is disappointing, but then Israel has always been hardheaded. OK, but tell them the king will have certain rights. And so, Samuel tells the people, OK, but here will be the rights of the king:

He will take your sons and assign them to his chariots and horses, and they will run before his chariot. He will also appoint from among them his commanders of groups of a thousand and of a hundred soldiers. He will set them to do his plowing and his harvesting, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will use your daughters as ointment-makers, as cooks, and as bakers. He will take the best of your fields, vineyards, and olive groves, and give them to his officials. He will tithe your crops and your vineyards, and give the revenue to his eunuchs and his slaves. He will take your male and female servants, as well as your best oxen and your asses, and use them to do his work. He will tithe your flocks and you yourselves will become his slaves.

“Still want a king?” The people say “yes” only proving the old adage of being careful what you ask for. In 1st and 2nd Kings, as well as 1st and 2nd Chronicles, scripture recounts the failings of all the kings of Israel (and Judah) from David to Jeckoniah. At the end of each account of the king, the accounts give an assessment of the king on how they did in shepherding the people of God in their covenant with God. Notice “shepherding” – not any of the regal, lofty terms we would use to describe the actions of a king

Where our readings today hardly use the work “king” there is no shortage of references to “shepherds.” Listen again to the words of the first reading from Ezekiel: “For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will look after and tend my sheep. As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so will I tend my sheep. I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark…I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest, says the Lord GOD. The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal (but the sleek and the strong I will destroy), shepherding them rightly.” Our Psalm cries out, “The Lord is my shepherd.

So, you have two descriptions of kings: one from 1st Samuel that describes a king as an absolute monarch who takes from the people for his own benefit. And then there is the one who comes as King of all those other kings, and yet will be as a shepherd – looking after, tending, rescuing, pasturing, giving rest, seeking out, bringing back, binding up, and healing. The one who sits upon the “glorious throne” a reference to the great vision of God as King – there upon the mercy seat in the Temple.

Maybe now, the scene foretold by Jesus to his disciples about the great end-times judgment makes sense. There is Jesus, judging, enthroned upon the Mercy Seat, separating the sheep from the goats – and the criterion is “were you kingly? Not as people imagine a king, but as you were baptized?” In your baptismal ceremony, the words were spoken that say, Just as Christ is prophet, priest and king, so too … “so too” – and that means you. “So too” do we share in the kingship of Christ. The king who rules as a shepherd – looking after, tending, rescuing, pasturing, giving rest, seeking out, bringing back, binding up, and healing.

For I was hungry and you gave me food,” said Jesus, “I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”

We care for the poor not out of guilt, ascetic renunciation, some secular theory of a socialistic ideal that rejects private property, nor because the poor are virtuous. Rather, in serving the poor we care for our own souls by imitating the character of God himself.

Christian care for the poor isn’t just a utilitarian act of social justice (Bill Gates does that), an altruistic act with no element of self-interest or expectation of reward (per Emmanuel Kant), and not even merely a sign of a believer’s personal faith (per the Protestant Reformers). Rather, care for the poor is the privileged way to serve God and to live out our baptismal vows.

It is the way it has always been. When St. Paul met with the early Church leaders in Jerusalem and was commissioned to be an apostle to the Gentiles, he says that the only thing he was asked to do was to remember the poor, “which is the very thing I was eager to do” (Galatians 2:10).

If you are to claim Christ as your king, if you are to claim your part in the kingship, then right and holy shepherding of others is part and parcel of that claim. You are anointed in baptism to share in Christ’s kingship, his right shepherding.

May the grace to live out that anointing… may that grace be yours.

Amen

Jonah: a story in art

From today’s readings: Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” He said to them in reply, “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights. At the judgment, the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and there is something greater than Jonah here. (Mt 12:38-41) Continue reading

Thin Epiphanies

thin-placeThis Sunday’s Gospel (John 1:29-34) speaks of the Baptism of the Lord, yet that was celebrated this past Monday. Some of the more observant among you might be thinking “Isn’t the Baptism of the Lord a Sunday celebration?”  Most years it is, unless Epiphany falls on January 7 th or 8 th which it did this year. In such cases, the Baptism of the Lord celebration falls on Monday. Not sure what to make of that, but there it is. It made we wonder why the Baptism of the Lord is so connected to the Epiphany. Continue reading

New Creations: Lamb of God

Baptism-Jesus29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. 30  He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’ 31 I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.” 32 John testified further, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him. 33 I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the holy Spirit.’ 34  Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”

After John’s interrogation by priests, Levites and Pharisees, the evangelist tells us, The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ This is but the start of a short, compact testimony by the Baptist witnessing to the One he had just baptized. Continue reading

New Creations: context

Baptism-Jesus29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. 30 He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’ 31 I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.” 32 John testified further, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him. 33 I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the holy Spirit.’ 34 Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-34)

Context. We begin the new liturgical year’s ordinary time with the beginning of John’s gospel. What precedes our Sunday gospel is the very rich and complex Prologue to the Fourth Gospel. Where Mark begins with the gospel message, Luke and Matthew begin with the birth narratives, John takes us back to the time before Time to reveal the eternal purpose of God. Continue reading

What divides: baptism

christ-dancing-christianThere is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!” (v.50)

The word baptizō used here is the same as that used for water baptism elsewhere in the NT. However, clearly Jesus is not referring to a water baptism (Luke 3:21-22) as that has already occurred. The verbal form of the word means to “plunge” offering several possible meanings: Continue reading

Are you Jesus?

jesus-and-child“Are you Jesus?” It is a question I get asked on occasion, most often because of the Franciscan habit that I wear. Lots of times the question comes from small children. Their picture books show Jesus in his robes and then they see me. I suspect the question is more about my Franciscan robes. Maybe on my good days it is about me. Maybe, just maybe there was a moment when I was Jesus for them.

The question is also asked at the hospital. Much of the time when we are called out in the middle of the night for “last rites” the patient is intubated and not conscious. But sometimes the patient is still with us. You can imagine the scene: The person, knowing death is near, has turned their thoughts to life after death. I enter the darkened room with the light shining from behind me, interrupting their silent prayer and thought; what they see is the outline of the One to whom they have been praying. “Are you Jesus?” In that moment, in the name of the Church, perhaps I am – or at least the presence of Christ as I bring the community’s final prayer and viaticum – the Holy Eucharist for the final journey home. Continue reading

Why He Came: cup and baptism

serve-one-anotherJesus Responds. It would be good to know Jesus’ tone of voice when he responds. Is it exasperation caused by their continuing blindness? Is it said as a tired sigh but with a willingness to again engage them and lead them to a deeper understanding and awareness? Does it have an edge? It might well be the simple inquiry to uncover what they understand: “Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

There are several lines of interpretation regarding Jesus’ reply. Some scholars hold that the images offered (“drink” and “baptism”) do not hold the same significance for the disciples as they do for Jesus. In this line of thought, the cup and baptism point to Jesus’ voluntary obedience unto death for the sins of humanity; whereas, the images suggest the disciples moral participation in Jesus’ passion. [Lane, 379]. But the construct of the sentence is in the present tense. In other words, right at his moment, Jesus is drinking and being baptized. This seems to point to something other than a future moral participation in the Passion. Continue reading

Behold the Lamb of God: commentary

I-saw-the-Spirit-come2John 1:29-34 29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. 30  He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’ 31 I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.” 32 John testified further, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him. 33 I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the holy Spirit.’ 34  Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”

Commentary. After John’s interrogation by priests, Levites and Pharisees, the evangelist tells us, The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ This is but the start of a short, compact testimony by the Baptist witnessing to the One he had just baptized. Continue reading

Baptized, Sent, and Falling Short

Homa Bay, on Winam Gulf, Lake Victoria, Kenya;...

Homa Bay,Kenya

You’ve seen the movies: a person is in danger, slipping off a cliff or a building or some other perilous perch. Another person grasps them by the hand and desperately tries to pull him or her to safety. That is the image Isaiah gives us: God grasps the chosen servant by the hand and hangs on for dear life.  “I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant to the people” (Is 42:6). It is an image that  Pope Benedict XVI sees in his book Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus, the sinless one, plunges into the waters of our life, grasps a new covenant people by the hand, rises from the waters, all the while hanging on for dear life – our life.  And we are baptized into Christ, raised toward eternal life, commissioned to journey through this life.  Baptized and sent.

18 years ago, on the 2nd day of my mission to Kenya, I found myself in the back seat, traveling by car from Kisumu to Homa Bay on a mostly rough, uneven, dusty and rock-strewn dirt road only meters from Lake Victoria. The land was dry, parched, and in need of irrigation – all the result of irrigation projects promised but never seemingly a high enough national priority for this out-of-the-way corner of the nation.  Later we were to discover we were between the short rains of December and the long rains of July and August – and in reality, at the beginning of a year-long drought. Continue reading