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New Bethlehem Heart
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"New Bethlehem Heart"

 "The Baptism of the Lord"

          Of all the Solemnities and Feasts of the Christmas Season, the Feast of "The Baptism of the Lord" is the only one where Jesus appears in the gospels in the full maturity of adulthood rather than as an infant or even as a young boy. Jesus' Baptism in the Jordan River inaugurates his mission. It will be the mission of the "mature" Lamb of God, and sub-"mission" will be key. Intercessors need to be formed in this maturity of the humble, submissive Lamb for his ongoing mission in the world today. The Baptism of the Lord is also the first Luminous Mystery of the Rosary. It certainly 'sheds light' on the heart of Jesus, and it begins to 'unveil' for us the purpose for which he has come. Jesus is Gift. He is our "Christmas Covenant" with God: This "Christmas Covenant" will be forever sealed in the Blood of the Lamb.

          The Jordan River holds a significant place in the history of Israel. By crossing the Jordan River, the people of Israel entered into the Promised Land. We read of this in The Book of Joshua. This crossing-over involved the Ark of the Covenant (which contained the presence of God), the priests and the people:

"While all Israel crossed over on dry ground, the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord remained motionless on dry ground in the bed of the Jordan until the whole nation had completed the passage" (Joshua. 3:17).

Centuries later Jesus, who is both the High Priest of the New and Everlasting Covenant and the very Presence of God, immerses himself in the same river. This immersion, freely chosen and in obedient submission to the Father, is oriented toward the renewal and restoration of humanity. It is a humble surrender of self. At the Jordan River Jesus identifies with sinful humanity. On Calvary he will die for sinful humanity. On the cross he will 'remain motionless' as the paschal Victim until the 'whole world' (rather than the whole nation) completes the "Passover passage". "The baptism in Jesus' life both announces and prepares for His baptism in blood" (Dictionary of Biblical Theology. "Baptism", p.41): "There is a baptism with which I must be baptized…" (Luke 12:50).

          Saving Love "lowers" itself in the world. God calls intercessors to journey from 'spiritual infancy' to 'spiritual maturity' by the willful--sometimes crucifying--choices we must make in order to identify more humbly, compassionately, and lovingly with humanity. This is a mission for the mature. Jesus takes his place among sinners at the Jordan River; he will take the place of all sinners on the cross. For the Lamb of God there is an essential connection between solidarity and Calvary. He who has no need to repent of sin nor to confess sin, chooses to identify with those who do. With a heart set in "self-emptying solidarity", Jesus identifies with us in our desperate need to the point of substituting his life for ours on the cross: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15:13).

          Jesus' intentional abasement at the Jordan River reveals a most profound, heart-felt understanding (a "saving solidarity") of our dire need as sinners, reveals a deep humility, and an eager desire to empty himself for our salvation. He has no need to be "washed", yet he chooses freely to do so. Later, we will be washed clean in his Blood. He has identified with us fully; he has offered his life for us freely. He who lowers himself into the Jordan will be lifted up on the cross. Jesus is the "Jordan companion" of suffering, sinful humanity. Everyday, intercessors have opportunities to choose a self-emptying solidarity for the sake of suffering, sinful humanity in union with Jesus. Each time we make the choice to love, to forgive, to exercise mercy, we--in a sense--"join Jesus" in the Jordan River: This mystery in the life of Jesus becomes more fulfilled within us.

          There is a story in St. Luke's Gospel of a Pharisee who enters the temple to pray at the same time as a tax collector. Luke writes that Jesus "addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else" (Luke 18:9). The Pharisee speaks this prayer to himself, "O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity" (Luke 18:11B)---but, Jesus is like the rest of humanity! The Pharisee's words reveal a heart that has separated itself, distanced itself from the rest of humanity (whom he holds in contempt). The Pharisee sees himself in contrast to, in opposition to, and above the rest of humanity. He willfully steps out of an interior sense of communion with his fellow human beings and unknowingly steps out of communion with God. In a sense, he "excommunicates" himself both from God and humanity. Hence, his 'prayer' is not really prayer at all.

          There is a core compassion and an indispensable empathy that intercessors are called to as an essential part of our lifestyle ministry. This is found in the heart of Jesus. We all have to be purified and purged of prejudices and harsh condemnations of others in order to identify more closely with suffering, sinful humanity.

Questions:

     1)What are some of my core prejudices (where I place harsh judgment on others)?

     2) Whom am I being invited to 'identify with' more closely in       my life?

Scriptures:

Any scripture cited in the text; Heb. 2:14,17; Luke 18:9-14; Mark 1:40-41; Mt. 5:43-48; Luke 6:37-38; Luke 9:51-56

"TWO-ZERO-ONE-EIGHT, TIME TO EXPIATE"

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