“Is Jesus Christ the Son of God?”[thinks]
God: Jesus was my son. Buddha was my son. Mohammed. Moses. You. The man who said there was no room in the inn was my Son. And so is the one who charges eleven dollars for a steak. [Oh, God! (1977), starring George Burns]
Cute word game, no? By the same logic, thirty minutes with commercials is all you need to understand the meaning of life, reconcile enemies, comfort widows, and guide teenagers through adolescence. Yet celebrities preach endless, nonsensical sermons about “morality” with a fanaticism worthy of the Spanish Inquisition. They’ve got it backwards. The Old Testament prophet Micah (6:8), distinguishing true religion from its pagan counterpart, tells us: “You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God!” The modern version is: “Take God seriously, and don’t take yourself too seriously.” We should not limit God with our small ideas.
It demands a lot to explore the great questions of life; clever answers never satisfy us. This is particularly true when it comes to our relationship with God our Father. Today, the Church celebrates the Baptism of the Lord, when the crowd hears the Father speak directly to Jesus: “You are my Son; with you I am well pleased.” OK, so Jesus is God’s Son. But then isn’t Buddha, or Mohammed, or you, the son (or daughter) of God? If so, the claim of Jesus’ unique relationship to the Father becomes meaningless. So how do we approach the question?
The Catholic tradition, thank heaven, is rooted in the idea of analogy, according to which the same word enjoys various levels of meaning. This is how, e.g. we explain that things exist, but God is Existence. Likewise, then we say Jesus is God’s “Son,” we mean that everything God is, Jesus is: creator of the world, source of our existence, and the one in whom we have eternal life. We are not sons or daughters of God in this sense, for we do not possess the divine nature. Yet Jesus also shares in our human nature, which is why he could be born, grow, eat and drink, feel pleasure and pain, learn, and die just as we do. What is special about the Baptism of Christ is that, through him, believers receive the “Spirit of adoption, by which we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Rom. 8:15). Jesus is God’s Son by nature, and we, by adoption. The same Holy Spirit that descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove is the same Spirit that animates the Church today, the Spirit that binds us to one another and to God. In the Mass for St. John the Baptist, we pray: “To make holy the flowing waters he baptized the very author of Baptism.” Jesus blesses the waters of baptism so we may become the “children of God” (1 John 3:2).
Our artwork this week is Pietro Perugino’s “Baptism of Christ” (1482) which resides in the Sistine Chapel. Notice that the central figure of the painting is the Holy Spirit. Catholics should remember that the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, and that the Spirit is the bond of love between us. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit may anoint us as he does the Servant of God (Is. 42:1-4) to bring the good news of Christ to our world.