The Waters of Baptism
Homily for June 10, 2018 (10th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
It is sometimes said that “Blood is thicker than water.” That phrase suggests that family bonds (“blood”) are stronger than any other. In many cases, this is true. Our identities are rooted in our families. Our personalities are shaped by our families. Many of our values have been handed on to us by our families. We even tolerate things from family members that we wouldn’t stand from anyone else! If these things are all true today, they were doubly true during the time of Jesus and the society in which he lived.
At this point in Mark’s gospel, Jesus is gaining a reputation as a powerful healer and a challenger to the religious status quo. He has healed a man with a withered hand in a synagogue on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6). Crowds are coming to him to be healed of various spiritual and physical illnesses, and he heals all of them. In fact, so many people seek him out that he and his disciples don’t even have time to eat! People want to be part of his life. His mission is to welcome them and reach out to them so that they can experience the grace of God in their lives.
In the face of all this excitement, some of Jesus’ relatives try to grab him and take him away. They think that he’s “out of his mind.” When he’s told that his mother, brothers and sisters are outside asking for him, Jesus asks “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Then he redefines his family relationships: “For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” What’s going on?
Jesus means no disrespect to his mother and the rest of his earthly family. Instead, he wants the people around him to think in terms deeper and stronger than blood. He wants to reconfigure our spiritual DNA. The people of his time thought that being in a covenantal relationship with God was largely a matter of ancestry. Jesus challenges that notion. What matters most is obedience to God’s will. This obedience has three essential elements: (1) we listen to God’s voice; (2) we submit our wills to God’s will; and (3) we act and live according to God’s will.
Adam and Eve heard God’s voice. But they failed to submit to God’s will. Eve allowed the voice of the serpent and the appearance of the forbidden fruit to distract her from listening to God. How often do we allow ourselves to be distracted from following the Lord’s voice?
In contrast, St. Paul submitted to God’s will because he understood and accepted the differences between what we can see and what is unseen; between what is transitory and what is eternal; and between the earthly dwellings that are our bodies and eternal home that God has prepared for us. When he realized this, he was able to freely and fully give himself to the mission that God gave to him, regardless of the cost. He followed Jesus, first to the cross and then to heaven.
When we are immersed in the waters of Baptism, we begin a life-long effort to learn, discern and live according to God’s will. With the help of God’s word in the Scriptures and the sacraments and with the support of our families and the Church, we can grow and fulfill our potential as God’s children and disciples of God’s Son. Water, it turns out, can be thicker than blood. +