The Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
2017 – Cycle A
2 Kinga 4:8-11, 14-16a; Psalm 89; Romans 6:3-4, 8-11; Matthew 10:37-42
“What do you ask today of God’s Church?” And parents respond, “Baptism”.
What are parents, grandparents, godparents and family asking of the church? Do we, the Church, understand?
What is the meaning and purpose of baptism? How do you understand it? …the washing away of Original Sin? …incorporation into the Body of Christ? …the beginning of life in Christ? …becoming a member of the Catholic Church? They are all genuine ways of understanding this initial Sacrament.
Paul’s question to us though leads down a very different path. “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” Do any of us equate Baptism with death? For Paul death is the essence, the fundamental experience of baptism. Listen to Paul’s repetition. “Are you unaware that we…were baptized into Christ Jesus’ death? We were indeed buried with Christ through baptism into his death.” “We have died with Christ.” “You must think of yourselves as dead to sin….”
Baptism leads to the cross.
Though there are various ways of understanding the Sacrament of Baptism, Paul centers on the cross. Have you noticed that the first action in the Sacrament of Baptism is to mark the forehead of the person with a cross? A branding, if you will, as we do to slaves, cattle, concentration camp prisoners. The cross brands us as belonging to Christ. We begin and conclude our prayers with the cross. Have you noticed that I sign every corpse with the cross at the conclusion of life? Even in death we belong to the Lord.
Baptism is a joyful time for families and the Church who trust the immediate family to be primary actors in the forming of a person as a Christian. But baptism, this dying, is not primarily a family celebration. How can it be when our commitments to Christ may call family ties into question? Remember Jesus teaches, “If anyone comes to me without hating their father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even their own life, they cannot be my disciple.” [Luke 14:26] In Matthew, Jesus teaches, “I have not come to bring peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother…and one’s enemies will be those in your own household.” [Mathew 10:34-36]
These are the conditions for following Jesus. Baptism may lead us to demanding choices. Baptism leads to the cross. Have any of us had the experience where our Christian baptism caused, is causing, a rift in our family relationships?
Baptism is not a magic spell that protects a person from danger or risk. How many of you remember when a newborn was not taken from the house unless you were going directly to Church for baptism lest God forbid, something happened and the child died without being baptized? It is curious that we do not feel that way about adults who are not baptized. There should be no fear in regard to any of the Sacraments and yet there continues to be with Baptism and the Sacrament of the Sick. We Christians do not believe in or practice magic. Baptism does not protect us from evil but on the contrary puts us on the direct path of the cross. How many of us, baptized into Christ, are living free of life’s burdens? None of us are.
What then is all this talk of death and the cross about in relation to Baptism?
In Baptism we are called to become a new creation as seen in the white garment that not only the newly baptized wear but all ministers of the liturgy wear reminding us of our calling. Dead to sin and alive to God.
Consider the death to be experienced to live for God. We believe our hearts belong to Jesus but…do our bodies? …our checkbooks? …our votes? …our property values? …our eating and shopping habits? Do they belong to Christ? Baptism has implications for every aspect of our lives not just the spiritual or what we are willing to give to God. Baptism is a death so as to live in newness of life for God.
Consider the death to be experienced to live for God. It is not easy to put the needs of other people before our own, especially when our culture encourages us to think first of “#1”. It is not easy to refrain from acting as if we know more or are better than others. It is not easy to show interest in the concerns of other people, when we judge those concerns to be trivial. It is not easy to forgive slights or oversights, to say nothing about deliberate assaults against us. Baptism is a death so as to live in newness of life for God.
“What do you ask today of God’s Church?”
Be careful what you ask for…you just might get it.