Jesus Does Not Write Us Off

01-12-2020From the Pastor's DeskMsgr. Ellsworth R. Walden

When we meet people where we think they are personally, we either accept them or hold back with reluctance, pondering whether we should ignore them, write them off, or just gossip about them. Today we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, where Jesus went to the place where John the Baptist was baptizing people. John’s ritual baptism was not what we experience in the Sacrament of Baptism which brings us into the life of God, making us children of God. His was a ritual where people made a commitment to repent or change what was not good in their lives. Obviously Jesus did not need to repent when He went out to where John the Baptist was. Here we see clearly the willingness and desire of Jesus to meet us where we are. Many of the people who came to John were sincere in their desire to make changes in their lives and to rise above and beyond what was not good. John “baptized” people by immersing them in the river. One of the symbolic messages was that when you were immersed fully in the water your sins were being washed away and your heart was relieved of their burdens by your desire to change. When Jesus was immersed in the water by John, there was no sin in Him, nor was their a need to change what was not good. Jesus was humbly meeting us where we are by going into the water with the “dirt” of our sins and the human desire to change for the better. This was the beginning of Jesus public ministry. We are invited to reflect on this event in the first decet of the rosary on Thursdays when we are enlightened by the Mysteries of Light. Jesus did not come to those who were perfectly cleansed of sin and completely open to God’s presence. He came to meet us where we are in our daily lives with our faults and failures and our desire for inner peace, hope, and meaning in life. Jesus did not come and say, “Change and I will accept you and shower you with my love.” His baptism by John tells us that He came and says: “I love you where you are. Let my love open your mind and heart to how good you are and can be, how powerful and life giving my love is and your love can be, and how meaningful your life can be.”

We can be pretty adept at writing people off and criticizing them. Jesus never writes us off. He came to meet us where we are to shower us with God’s love and life. The history of the Jewish people in the Old Testament recounts over and over again how God never gives up or abandons His people. He puts up with their doubts in the desert right after they have been freed from slavery in Egypt and their lack of gratitude for His love. As it says in the fourth Eucharistic Prayer: “You formed man in your own image and entrusted the whole world to his care, so that in serving you alone, the Creator, he might have dominion over all creatures. And when through disobedience he had lost your friendship, you did not abandon him to the domain of death. For you came in mercy to the aid of all, so that those who seek might find you. Time and again you offered them covenants and through the prophets taught them to look forward to salvation.” God never stops loving us. He never writes us off. It is awesome to ponder God’s love. How could He love us so much as we have time and time again as individuals and as the human race created in His very image ignored and written Him off? Surely and powerfully the words we pray as the priest holds up the host just before we come to receive Jesus in the Eucharist at Mass come to mind: “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed!” Love is not something we earn because we are good, love is the gift of another person to us. How blessed we are to be loved by God right here, right now, exactly where we are in life.

One of the ways this divine love is highlighted is when Jesus is dying on the cross. He never stopped loving, even those we would consider unworthy of love. He prayed for the very people who were unjustly and happily crucifying Him: “Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” They divided his garments by casting lots. The people stood by and watched; the rulers, meanwhile, sneered at him and said, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Messiah of God. Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine, they called out, “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.” (Luke 23:34-37) How much clearer could it ever be that God has absolutely no desire to stop loving us? After His Resurrection Jesus appeared to the apostles. He did not express disappointment or anger, only love and trust: “He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” [Jesus] said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:17) Jesus does not look for perfection in us, only the desire to fill us with His life, love, mercy, and wisdom. Only through, with, and in Him can we be fully alive and the person we have the capability and creativity to be in God’s very image. Filled with faith and hope we can joyfully pray this prayer of Mother Teresa which I have quoted before and sent to you for Christmas:

He is the Life I want to live. He is the Light I want to radiate. He is the Way to the Father. He is the Love with which I want to love. He is the Joy I want to share. He is the Peace I want to sow. Jesus is everything to me. Without Him I can do nothing.

How good it is when we meet Jesus where He is in His desire to love us. How blessed we truly are.