Baptism into Ordinary Time

This weekend we celebrate the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time.  If you’ve been paying attention, you might be wondering what happened to the 1st Sunday.  In her wisdom, the Church makes the transition from the Season of Christmas into Ordinary Time with the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, which we celebrated last Sunday.  This is certainly fitting, because baptism is what makes “ordinary” time anything but. 

I recently read an article by a writer named Bo Bonner who considers baptism in light of the conversation that Our Lord has with the Pharisee Nicodemus, recorded in chapter three of the Gospel of John.  Nicodemus was a highly esteemed Pharisee who went to Jesus under the cover of night, hoping that by a direct encounter he might better understand Our Lord’s teaching.  After Nicodemus somewhat awkwardly confesses his belief that Jesus is from God, Our Lord gets right to the point by interjecting a mysterious statement.  He says: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”  Nicodemus responds: “How can a man be born when he is old?  Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”  Bonner notes that this passage is often used to make Nicodemus look foolish, as if the supremely well-educated and sophisticated teacher of Israel couldn’t get beyond a literalistic understanding of what Jesus is saying.  Nicodemus understands metaphor, Bonner explains, and is extending Jesus’ metaphor further.  The point is that we are shaped by our lives in the world.  Our deeds and our misdeeds, the intentions we had in doing them – good and bad – are part of what makes us who we are, like the rings and knots in the trunk of a tree.  One who has lived for a time in the world will inevitably be marked with the wounds and scars that come with human experience.  As time goes on, the things we see surprise us and interest us less.  Bonner writes: “here in the dregs of Ordinary Time… we begin to feel like it is the same things that life throws at us, over and over again.  We see the same sales, we hear the same news.  We confess the same sins.”  Nicodemus, he continues, “is wise, and his wisdom rings truer to our ears [during ordinary time] than any other time of year.  Nothing is truly ever born again.” 

It is precisely this mindset that Our Lord confronts in Nicodemus and in us.  What would otherwise be true, what would otherwise justify the weariness of the human soul that has been touched by the world, is overcome by the Incarnate Son of God who shares His life with us, thus making all things new.  The baptism of Christ gives power to our own baptism, through which we are reborn to life with Him.  The divine life of grace sanctifies the baptized, transforming the most ordinary and routine things we do into the way in which we participate in our own sanctification and Christ’s redemption of all things. It means that we can always start anew and that, even if we fall into spiritual death through grave sin, the Lord is simply waiting to be raised again to new life in our souls through reconciliation.  “With this new birth, we become capable not only of seeing the kingdom of God at the end of time, but even here and now in glimpses, the beginning of Christ’s coming reign.”  In a striking phrase, Bonner writes: “The goal of parish life is to remind us of the startling nature of our baptism every day.”  Parish life is about helping each other understand the great gift that we have been given – a gift that comes with the responsibility to awaken the world-weary to Christ’s assurance that we can, and must, be born again – spiritually refreshed in the life of grace, living our ordinary lives with Him now and in the fullness of the Kingdom to come. 

Nicodemus Visiting Jesus by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1899)

posted 1/16/21

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