BEING IN GOD’S CIRCLE OF LOVE
Sunday Liturgical Reflection
Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord
January 11, 2009
Belongingness is one of the innate needs of each and every single human person. We all need to feel part of a group. Such is our nature as humans that God willed that we should be born as members of families, nurtured, cared for and nourished by a natural institution that gradually forms us, and then “presents” us to the bigger society in the world. In this gradual “introduction” to society, there are certain important milestones common to all cultures and civilizations – and faith affiliations! Let us look at some of those we do as Filipinos… baptismal day, the first birthday, the first haircut, the first picture, the first day in school, the first…everything. Just about everything seems to be made into an important milestone in the trajectory of life, especially of the firstborn son or daughter.
What seems to be behind such important events is the cultural need for parents and the whole clan to “present” and “introduce” their child to the bigger world of relatives, office, community, acquaintances and friends – the Church! How else does one explain the Filipino penchant for so many sponsors (ninongs and ninangs galore!) on the child’s baptismal day? I would like to suggest that, more than just offer the child some form of real and virtual security for the future (the dozens of sponsors already assure the child of some potentially important connections for some future need!), caught as the Filipino family is in a very real and deep culture of insecurity in all aspects, there is also that equally real desire to insert, introduce and present the child to an ever widening set of various concentric circles of connectedness and social influence in the context of the Filipino society.
One of those concentric circles is the circle of love and affection within which the family as a whole, moves, or would like to keep itself in at all times. This is the child’s intimate circle of those he or she can call his or her very own. This is the circle of the extended family, close relatives, intimate friends and friendly neighbors – the immediate circle of those who can fulfill to a great extent that universal need for belongingness and affiliation. This is the circle that claims the child as their very own, the circle of love and acceptance, affirmation and affection. That circle seems to say in all those milestones and events: This is my beloved. I am well pleased with him or her!
Today, solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord, we see and hear and experience something similar to what we as Filipinos are very much at home with. We have in today’s celebration someone who “names and claims” as His own, and then presents Him to all as His beloved! We have here a case of one whose circle, not only of belongingness, but also of concern is shown in a clear and all encompassing manner. In a very personal, intimate way, we stand witness to a Father who proudly declares before all present: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The Father corroborates positively and clinches what earlier John the Baptist has said negatively: “I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.”
I would like to suggest that all of us, individually today, ought to imagine ourselves present right then and there as the Father introduced His Son, Jesus, to the world of real people, real individuals like us all with names, coming from real families and communities, with real concerns, real problems and real dreams. Include real disappointments and problems in the list, if you will. The world that Jesus came to see and save, remember, was a world inhabited by envious Herods, ambitious Pilates, and scheming High Priests and Pharisees! The world that stood witness to Jesus’ baptism was a world that “walked in darkness” before “it has seen a great light.” The world that welcomed Jesus, the world that produced a John the Baptist, who was willing to “decrease” so that “he might increase,” also produced Salome and Herodias with their shadowy and questionable dreams! In the very waters of the Jordan which Jesus sanctified, there bathed saints and sinners alike, clean and unclean people alike; people with bright and brilliant dreams for tomorrow, and people who couldn’t care less about most anything!
This is our world! This is the type of world that welcomes Jesus’ baptism today. Name it, we’ve got it! Corrupt and selfish politicians? We have them aplenty. Citizens who skirt around laws? It is you and I! People who throw trash like as if there were no tomorrow? That’s you and me! Drivers who drive around like they owned the few roads available all over? That’s Juan de la Cruz… you and I!
What, then, is today’s Good News, you say? A whole lot! The Good News essentially resides in the fact that you and I, and all the budding Herods and Judases of our society, along with the potential John the Baptists and Mary Magdalenes in our midst, are all part of this growing concentric circle of God’s love and concern. We are God’s family! We are, by virtue of our own baptism incorporated into Christ and we became by His grace, adopted sons and daughters of the same God, who takes pride in us, as He takes pride in Jesus His Son!
We are family! We are “members of the household of God” (Eph 2:19), and it is to us, as much as to Jesus, that God today says: “You are my beloved son and daughter; with you I am well pleased.” Yes, we all belong. We all are part of and party to all the great things God has wrought in the world, and can still do, with us as collaborators! God’s recognition of His Son, has spilled over into us. God considers us His own, too, on account of Jesus, His Son. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31).
There is power in this affirmation from the Lord. There is power and a lot of potentialities in the conviction that we all are part of this family to whom Jesus was presented. We are singular recipients of grace by the mere fact that God has considered us worthy to be part of this set of concentric circles of God’s influence, God’s concern and God’s immense love.
This grace entails responsibility, however. This is the same responsibility faced by the leper, one in ten, who was the only one who came back to thank the Lord. This is the same responsibility faced by Mary Magdalene who proved to be a loyal follower of the Master. This is the very same responsibility assumed by Peter, who, despite his failings, repented, claimed his power, and accomplished a lot of good for God and humanity.
And this, too, is the responsibility faced by all of us in these difficult moments of our nationhood. The trends, as we are told by experts, are frightening. At the rate we are going, in a few decades, we shall only be competing with Bangladesh. As we are going right now, there is no way we can reach what Thailand has attained. There is simply too much corruption, too much self-serving politics, too much selfishness and greed in our nation. People beloved of God, sons and daughters of God now need more than ever to claim that same power that emanates from our baptism. We all need to work together and pray together for God to heal our land, to banish with our human cooperation, all the social cancers that we have allowed ourselves to be inflicted with. We need to get up, walk with heads high up and let loose all the powers of our baptismal consecration to make up for all that the spirit of iniquity, the traces of the Herod and the Judases in our sinful nature have led us to, for decades now!
Today, let us not just be curious bystanders standing as mute and ineffectual witnesses to a momentous event that really has gotten us all involved. The Lord has declared us with His Son, His own beloved sons and daughters! We are beloved of God. “Beloved, we are God’s children now” (1 Jn 3:2). Ours now is the privilege and the task to live as such, to deserve the affirmation from the Father, to follow the paths that being part of the circle of God’s love entails.