God promises us the richest gift of all

  • January 6, 2009
Baptism of the Lord (Year B) Jan. 11 (Isaiah 55:1-11; 1 John 5:1-9; Mark 1:7-11)

Scarcity, real or perceived, is the source of much of the world’s fear and violence. The scarcity or limitation can take the obvious forms — scarcity of food, water and resources. On a higher level, God can seem limited and available to only a select few. In the fearful minds and hearts of many people, life is a deadly struggle to acquire what we need — or think we need — before someone else gets there ahead of us.

But the message from Isaiah paints a very different picture. God is a God of generosity and abundance. The symbols of water, wine, milk and bread are used to illustrate the gift of life and continual sustenance. The generous and gratuitous gift of God is offered without preconditions — even those who are broke or bankrupt are invited to partake freely. God is not stingy nor does God set unreasonable obstacles in one’s way. God is prepared to fill us with what we need but we have to be prepared and willing to receive it.

And that is part of the problem. In revealing His generous and compassionate nature, God challenges us to do likewise, for we all have our part to play. By banishing the fear and the illusion of scarcity and limitation from our minds, we can open our tightly clenched fists and share freely what we have hoarded for ourselves. It is really what we need to hear in these times of great economic distress and hardship. There is enough for everyone and we can help to bear the burdens of others. No one should be abandoned or left behind.

But it will require some sober reflection and sacrifice by everyone. It is when we are open-hearted and generous that God’s power can be manifest to us and through us. And as far as the scarcity or limited availability of God — that illusion should vanish like mist. God is present to all — we need not draw lines in the sand or try to hoard God for those who belong to the right club or hold the right opinions. We could spare ourselves a lot of religious animosity and rancour if we could only learn that lesson. Isaiah assures us that God’s Word — creative and compassionate will — has been unleashed in the world and it will not sound retreat until it has accomplished its purpose. And its purpose is a world of justice, equality and peace where compassion and sharing are the ruling principles.

One achieves a second birth as a child of God by means of love — love of God and others. John is deceptively simple in his demand that we believe that Jesus is the Christ. For John, belief means surrender of the total self and will and a willingness to be moulded into an image of that same Christ. The commandment that is not burdensome is again deceptive — love — but love means a complete giving of the self. Love is the one “weapon” with which we achieve victory and conquer the world. All other means simply pull us deeper into the misery of the human condition. 

The water, spirit and blood of which John speaks are all connected with the baptism of Jesus. The water and blood signify the human experience and the full humanity of Jesus. He had to be tested and tempted and He learned obedience through suffering. And His blood — the very bearer of life — He was willing to pour out for the sake of others. The tearing open of the heavens and the voice of God signify the transcendental importance of the event. The boundary between Heaven and Earth momentarily dissolve, making it clear that the divine is entering the human realm. The spirit of God is truly divine empowerment and authority and it bears witness to the status of Jesus as God’s beloved Son.

But the story doesn’t stop there — it is only the beginning. The New Testament insists in a number of passages that we are invited to that same filial relationship — to become daughters and sons of God by adoption. God is not stingy and neither is Jesus — both promise us the richest gift of all: their divine spirit to those who accept it in faith. Why would we pursue anything else?