I once read a very provocative article written by a Catholic priest in which he said that a lot of church-going people never really get baptized.
What he was proposing was that we Catholics, we Christians in general, are seldom truly baptized people. Yes, he admits, we’ve all gone through the ceremony. We’ve had the water poured over our heads. But, then, he insists, way too many of us have gone on living our lives pretty much like everyone else. No real difference can be observed.
He said, in his article, that true baptism is the moment when you understand what your life’s purpose really is. When you understand the meaning of life, you wake up one morning and say to yourself: I get it. You have come to a deeper understanding of life.
He goes on to say that true baptism is different from living life on “cruise control.” It’s different than just going through the motions of living: growing up, going to school, getting married, having children, getting a job. These are very important moments and valuable achievements in a person’s life.
But often they are just door openers to life’s next stage of “cruise control” living.
His point is that often people never allow themselves to fall into that surrender that creates a different set of eyes through which they can see a deeper meaning to “what it’s all about.”
The kind of baptism that he’s talking about does not often come in moments of achieving greatness. It usually happens when we are faced with experiences of failure, of abandonment, of betrayal, of deep hurt, of sin.
The good news is that this kind of pain can bring gain — if we allow ourselves to be taught by it; if we allow ourselves to enter into a deeper experience of God.
When that happens, we are in effect joining Jesus in his plunge into the river Jordan, or, like St. Paul, stricken from our life of power and self-sufficiency on our own road to Damascus.
The point this priest was suggesting stresses that true baptism involves much more than a ceremony of pouring water. It’s when you discover your soul and begin living out of that experience. It’s when you surrender finally to the magnitude of God’s love and allow it to be the deepest meaning of your life.
That’s when you’re baptized.
That’s also exactly what happened to the man named Jesus. He was 30 years old at the time. He had lived a bit, perhaps failed a bit.
And then “it” happened.
Each of the Gospel writers tried to communicate this major transformation within Jesus by telling of the opening of the heavens and the overshadowing by a dove. The words: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” rang from the clouds.
In today’s reading, though, the Gospel of John adds something very different. He tells of John the Baptist giving Jesus a title not found anywhere else in the Gospels: The Lamb of God.
This signature tells us about the kind of God with whom Jesus has become fully united. He is a God not to be viewed in terms of spectacular power and majesty. Instead, he is to be seen as a lamb: gentle, meek, tender — a lamb who opposes the misuse of power, a lamb who joins us in our agonies and terrors.
Jesus is calling us today to immerse ourselves again in the water that will allow us to be truly baptized and will re-make us into gentle followers of the Lamb of God.