Saturday, May 05, 2012

You Baptized a What?

“You Baptized a What?”
by Fr. Paul Bresnahan
Jesus tells us to love one another. Today’s Gospel describes the expectation that we will “abide in Jesus as he abides in us”. Besides that, any branch in this vine that does not bear fruit for the Love of God will be pruned back until it does. It be be necessary to cut off any of those branches if, in fact, they do not bear fruit for the love of God.
This is pure simplicity. John’s first letter makes it so clear that we can hardly escape the conclusion that “God is Love”. Thus as we abide in God we cannot help but abide in love. The two are synonymous.
So when Jesus described himself as the vine, he describes a marvelous image to use as we seek to abide with him, in a series of interwoven relationships with God, and Jesus and the Holy Spirit and with one another.
You would think we could get that straight.
But right away we got into our first major controversy. The party of the circumcision you will remember argued that you had to be Jewish first before you could be Christian. Until that time all of the Disciples of Jesus and Jesus himself were observant Jews.
It was in the context of this conflict that the first Church Council was held to settle the matter. There were heated arguments over the ritual of circumcision, dietary law and other Jewish customs which the first Christians rightfully treasured. It seems change was difficult in those days for church people.
But for Peter and Paul there was an idea that they could not escape. This Jesus, as they understood Jesus, died for the sins of the whole world...for all the people of the whole world...for everyone and especially for the “Gentiles” the “Goyim”...or in plain English: “The Outsiders”. Here in the First Council of the Christian Church in Jerusalem was the fundamental question; “Do we exist for ourselves only or do we exist for the sake of those who do not yet belong to this fellowship of faith?”
William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, during World War II once said that “The Church is the only society on the planet that exists for the sake of those who do not belong to it”. And lest we forget the Great Commission; “Go into all the World and Make Disciples of ALL Nations”

Let’s be clear that as we reach out to those beyond the pale of our faith, that it is the Love of God we bring to others, NOT our way of looking of things. After all, faith is not a series of beliefs as much as it is a way of life.
We believe that Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life. No One comes to God except through that way. Too many have taken that to mean that we’ve got to get others to say the two syllables “JE-SUS” in order to be saved. This is a profound and often violent misunderstanding of those sacred words.
Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life precisely because he is the Love of God made Flesh and Blood. So what we bring to others as we share our faith, is the Love that God seeks to be made Flesh and Blood in ourselves. By presenting Jesus, we present the Love of God. If we do not present the Love of God we are certainly not presenting Jesus. Thus we seek to abide in him by abiding in the Love of God.
In ever widening circles of inclusion, the embrace of Christ reaches out to nation after nation, kindred after kindred until all come within the circle of Love of God. This is the Primary Mystery of the Cross; that the Love of Christ reaches out on the hard wood of the cross so that EVERYONE might come within the reach of his saving embrace. This is all that is missing in all of our history. It is all that is needed at this moment. It is all that is ever missing.
So as the Disciples fought it out at the First Council of the Church described in the book of Acts, eventually there had to be a grudging acceptance of those who were not Jews as well as those who were. Some rejoiced in that decision. Others did not.
It must have come as something of a surprise to the folks at HQ in Jerusalem then when Phillip sashayed one day into the meeting hall where deliberations were still underway, he had some wonderful news. He must have excitedly described the Baptism he had performed for the a court official of the Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians.
I can just imagine the awkward silence that must have followed. 
“You baptized a what?”
Somebody must have asked or wondered aloud about the implications of  such a Baptism.
Are we saying here that God’s love extends beyond the Jewish and Greek divide? If so, then it follows as day follows night that God’s love extends to all racial and ethnic identities.
This is the very moment when the Church’s influence exploded into global dimensions.

But it went another step further and not one that everyone could really come to terms with. 
The love of God extends beyond the barriers we erect to distinguish sexual identity as well. As blessed Paul put it; “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus,” in that now famous passage in Galatians 3:28. 
Phillip thought that the Love of God would even cover the Eunuch, the one whose sexual identity was not even covered by those options.
But remember Jesus did say that some were “born that way (ie “Eunuchs”) some were made so by men and some made themselves so for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven”.
We cannot be exactly clear what this means precisely. But we do know that Jesus said “not everyone can accept this saying”. All this he said as he was teaching the Disciples about the nature of Christian Marriage in the 19th Chapter of the Gospel of Matthew.
Jesus didn’t expect everyone to agree with him on this or any of his many other teachings.
What is clear to me is that everyone comes within the reach of Christ’s saving embrace. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone.
And what is clearer still is that we are intertwined with Jesus and one another in God’s abundant and unconditional love. This to me is The Very Good News of Jesus Christ!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Fr. Paul


Steve Marlow said...

Luke's loud!comments in Acts regarding some type of male deformity (perhaps actual or psychological) was certainly shouted against Jewish segregation of people from worshiping God and the acceptance that God loved them. Perhaps Matthew and Mark were doing the same thing in the way they expressed what Jesus said. That it was OK with God if some men were different from the normal expectations of men in community.

Fr. Paul said...

It is of note that what was seen in the Levitical Code as deformity, is seen by Jesus as a human being in need of the healing touch of humanity and of God. This is done with great courage, but above all, with love. There is a wonderful spontaneity and innocence in this Baptism that I find a marvel.

Fr. Paul said...

Let me rephrase what I just said; It is of note that was was seen in the Levitical Code as deformity is seen by Jesus as a human being. (Period)

Steve Olson said...

"Too many have taken that to mean that we’ve got to get others to say the two syllables “JE-SUS” in order to be saved. This is a profound and often violent misunderstanding of those sacred words"
I wonder if we read Jesus' words here along with his words on the cross, "It is finished" or in more modern translations "It is accomplished we might begin to see this not as a directive to go out and make followers and insist on the confession of "Jesus" often at the point of a sword be it literal or figurative, we might not see the key point. God acted, end of story.

"Fr. Paul" Bresnahan said...

Thank you Steve!