It’s been a while since I played organized sports—probably college. I can still picture how high school and middle school kids choose teams (you remember that traumatic experience?), everyone up against the wall, team captains calling out their choices, the better kids getting picked first, everyone else dreading being picked last. Among the lessons of the playground, we learn some “not so pleasant” realities of life. For instance, whether we like it or not, there is politics in all human interactions. Some people end up in leadership despite their lack of necessary leadership skills. External appearances attract more attention than moral character and personal integrity. First impressions are difficult, if not nearly impossible, to change. Life is never fair. There are no automatic do-overs. If you know how to work the system, you can be a winner all the time. Yet in truth, we can’t win all the time. And if someone wins, someone else has to lose. People love to hang out with winners. And once the game is over, we all have to go home, take out the garbage, clean our rooms, and pay the bills. Only a select few get to play games for a living, the rest of us have to shape up, grow up, and work a real job.
Childhood is serious business. Simple ordinary everyday experiences teach us the important lessons of life. If the lesson is not evident, there is always a grown-up close by willing to explain it. And we all will make mistakes. We all will learn life’s important lessons one way or another. We all learn to take responsibility for our choices and actions. And we all have to do our own growing up.
With today’s feast, Jesus is a man of about thirty years of age. He had grown up in the home of Mary and Joseph, learned the carpenter’s trade, was trained in the Law and Tradition of his ancestors, and worshiped regularly in the temple with his family and neighbors. Society had legitimate expectations of him—that he would take care of his mother after Joseph’s death, work diligently at his trade, choose a wife and raise a family, despise the Romans, and keep the faith. So when he approached John the Baptist at the river Jordan bearing his family’s history, learned patterns of thought and behavior, the essential life lessons passed down by parents, teachers, and friends, and the wisdom of his own experience, he was more aware than anyone of his own life’s purpose. Yet only after his death will it become clear even to his closest friends that he was chosen for a nobler purpose. They would call him Messiah, God’s Anointed, the Chosen One.
Isaiah offers for our consideration the image of the Servant of the Lord, whom we identify as Jesus. He is “the servant whom God upholds, the one with whom God is pleased, upon whom God has put his spirit; to bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street.” He will be gentle and compassionate, “not breaking the bruised reed nor quenching the smoldering wick.” From the Acts of the Apostles, we come to know how he is the one sent to the Israelites as one who proclaims peace, who went about doing good and healing those oppressed by the devil.” The evangelist Matthew writes how Jesus and John the Baptist had very different views of his role as God’s Anointed. John believed Jesus came to baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Yet Jesus asked John to fulfill society’s expectations, and to baptize him with water as one seeking God’s forgiveness. One interesting detail in the baptism narrative is that the Spirit of God came upon Jesus in the form of a dove, not exactly a symbol of power and might!
Since his election to the Chair of Peter last spring, Pope Francis has set out to show us what he believes is his role among God’s people by proclaiming the message entrusted to him by Jesus. To many he offers encouragement and strength. You may have heard some of your non-Catholic friends say how they like that new pope of yours. What is attractive about him is what was attractive about Jesus. They see themselves as bruised reeds and smoldering wicks. They know they would respond better when there is no shouting or crying out, when they are treated with dignity and respect. And as in Jesus’ time, there are those who would disagree with the Holy Father’s perception of his role. He is a socialist—they would say—a Marxist, an enemy of the free market economy. Perhaps he knows his own role better than us. The prophet Isaiah seems to think so.
This coming week, our bishop invites us to recommit ourselves to proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ with renewed enthusiasm, joy, and purpose. I have been away and have not yet gone over everything I received from his office, but this week, we launch a five-year pastoral plan for the diocese, a plan to proclaim God’s message of peace and forgiveness, to invite all who would listen to join in the mission entrusted to the church—a mission of hospitality, of encouragement, of healing, of reconciliation. There is really nothing new about it, only that we go about the task more intentionally, consciously weaving it into our pattern of thinking and our way of life. We can keep an eye on Pope Francis and follow his example. And when in doubt, we might re-read the passage from Isaiah. This Wednesday, the whole diocese is invited to fast and pray with this purpose in mind. And in the coming weeks, I hope to share with you more details of the plan.
We have been given the task of drawing others to the salvation Jesus won. It is not a prize we give to those we like. Instead, we hear the apostle Peter proclaim, “that God shows no partiality … that in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him,” … makes us rethink some of the restrictions we have gotten accustomed to impose on one another. May we discover a richer and deeper understanding of the Church’s mission in the world with the passing of each day. In this way we, who make up the body of Christ, continue to grow in wisdom and grace.
Rolo B Castillo © 2014