Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel
by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
The readings for Sunday, January 9, 2011:
First Reading: Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm: Psalm 29
Second Reading: Acts 10:34-43
Gospel: Matthew 3:13-17
This week's Gospel finds Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, a ministry that shows what a difference to world history a year of two can make. Notice that Jesus begins with baptism. Much critical ink, and literal blood, has been spilled in the centuries since the baptism of Christ, as people try to determine how important baptism should be to us as Christians. But let's put those issues aside and focus on the words of God: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."
We tend to see Jesus as special. We can't imagine God saying the same thing about us. But in fact, from everything we can tell, God does feel that way about us. God takes on human form in its most vulnerable (well, the form could have been more vulnerable, I suppose; God could have appeared as a female slave in the Roman empire). How much more of a demonstration of love do we need?
For those of us who are big believers in affirmations, we should print out those words and paste them on our bathroom mirrors. What does it mean, if we believe God is well pleased with us?
Many of us dwell in the land of self-loathing this time of year. Maybe we've spent too much money on our Christmas festivities. Maybe we've eaten too much in that time between Thanksgiving and New Year's. Maybe we've already broken our New Year's resolutions. We look in our mirrors and see multiple reasons to hate ourselves.
We look in the mirror and see ourselves as we imagine that the world sees us. The world looks at us and feeds us criticism: too fat, too plain, too wrinkled, too odd, too tall, too short. A diet of that commentary quickly leaves us malnourished. The world looks at us and judges us in terms of all the things we haven't accomplished yet: no child or children who don't measure up, lack of business success, a house that's too small or in the wrong neighborhood, no publication credits, no worthy creative products, the wrong kind of degree or no degree at all. Seeing ourselves through the eyes of the world means we compare ourselves to others and hold ourselves to impossible standards.
No one wins this game.
Try a different practice for a week or two (or 52). Look in the mirror and see yourself not as the world sees you. Look in the mirror and know that God loves you. God chose you. God delights in you.
Our spiritual forebears might have worried that this kind of practice would lead to too much pride. But frankly, our culture has changed. In a world where more people are seeking help for the diseases of depression and anxiety disorders than ever before in human history, and many of the rest of us are trying to self-medicate, perhaps we shouldn't worry too much about big-headedness.
God chose you. God delights in you. God loves you.
You may find this hard to believe. You may be able to believe that God loves people like Mother Theresa or Archbishop Tutu, or any number of people more worthy than you. The good news is that God loves you the same way. God sees you in the same way.
No matter how much you improve yourself, God will still love you. No matter how many times you lose sight of your goals and move further away from the best self that you could be, God will still love you. Of course God sees your full potential and probably hopes that you'll move in that direction. But even if you don't, God will love you anyway. No matter how miserably you've failed, God will always welcome you.
We've lived in the land of self-loathing long enough. Why cripple ourselves with this kind of thinking? There's work to be done, and the world cannot afford for you to waste time feeling bad for all the ways you've failed. Every day, remember your baptism (perhaps as you bathe, as Martin Luther recommended) and the larger meaning of your baptism.