Have you ever had a sense of urgency about something? I easily think back to how fervently I prayed during my week-long retreat prior to making my final vows with the Missionaries of the Precious Blood. I urgently wanted God to let me know whether it was the right thing for me to do for the rest of my life. The day of reckoning was swiftly approaching, and I needed certainty!
I wanted the 13 months I spent in Boston while working on my doctoral degree to be full of experiences of personal growth and challenge, as well as meeting new people. It was one of those rare opportunities in life—a fresh start. I knew no one and nothing about living in Boston, or the inner-city parish I was assigned to during my studies. So, I urgently squeezed everything I could out of those months, and I came away brimming with new purpose and direction.
It doesn’t take much to trigger in my memory how urgently I searched the sidewalks and lakefront paths of downtown Chicago on a sweltering but festive July afternoon after making the stomach-wrenching discovery that I had lost a precious crucifix ring that had been given to me by a very close friend. Even though there were literally tens of thousands of people wandering around that day, in the middle of Chicago’s annual summer bash, the “Taste of Chicago”—my urgency made me ignore practicality—and search I did (but to no avail!)
These are but a few of my experiences. Have you ever experienced a deep sense of urgency? If you have, whether it is an urgency filled with joy and excitement, or weighted down with anxiety and sorrow, then you know what it does to you—body, mind and spirit!
I love the Evangelist Mark because his Gospel-telling is so full of urgency. Jesus leaps from one moment of his ministry to another; drama is around every corner; the pace is fast and furious—we can hardly imagine keeping up with the trail left behind by the Markan Jesus. Every word that Mark uses, every word spoken by Jesus counts for something significant!
With this distinctive Gospel portrait in mind, Mark’s account of the Baptism of Jesus tells us that upon Jesus’ coming out of the water, he saw the heavens being torn open. No gentle crack for the Spirit’s descent; no quick sneak-a-peek by God on this momentous occasion. For Mark, this is an urgent moment. Jesus has made a decision—and God was pleased with God’s Beloved Son.
But what was this momentous decision so urgently undertaken and proclaimed? Whatever would have possessed Jesus to immerse himself in the dirty, muddy waters of the Jordan River that day?
Jesus’ urgent decision was not to become a disciple of John the Baptizer; not to give centuries of Christian a reason for continuing the practice of a water bath for the forgiveness of sins—but rather it was Jesus’ urgent decision to immerse himself in our humanity—to place himself in the middle of our weak, vulnerable, troubled, yet beautiful God-fashioned humanity—to draw as close as possible to our condition. He who was “without sin” got in line with everyone else, in line with all those bent low under the burden of their sins and infidelities—people like us—people bold enough to admit openly their brokenness.
It was at this precise moment, when Jesus immersed himself in solidarity with all that is hurting and helpless within and around us—it was then that God tore open the heavens and proclaimed Jesus “Beloved.”
Is there any urgency in your faith? In your relationship with God? With Jesus Christ through the Spirit? Or have the waters of baptism dried up, leaving behind not the presence and vitality of the Holy Spirit, but rather the “dry bones” of Ezekiel?
We, too, through our baptism, are the beloved of God when we make decisions to immerse ourselves in the weakness and brokenness of humanity—our own and that of others. We, too, are the beloved when we are bold enough to stand with and act on behalf of those who are bowed down. For it is in these acts of compassion that the heavens are once again torn open and the Spirit descends, and we are known as beloved daughters and sons of God.
It is not enough for us to stand at the river’s edge, carefully keeping the distance of spectators, watching our lives and those of others drift by in the current, indifferent to the hopes and dreams, the joys and sorrows, the hurts and senses of loss that people daily experience. It is not enough for us to stand comfortably at the river’s edge, satisfied with our often well-worn and faded religious practices and trinkets.
Jesus’ decision was a baptism of desire—a baptism of urgency! Is there any urgency in your faith?