January 6, 2023
By far the most common question that I get from the youth group of our parish is: Is it okay to get a tattoo? Is it a sin?
I always respond by asking: Why do you want a tattoo? ‘Oh, because it says something about me, about who I am,’ they say . And there’s the body piercing, the dyed hair, and so on.
Young people are just searching desperately for an identity, for self-expression. And adults aren’t much better, are less traumatic but equally as destructive sometimes. Adults seek their identity through their jobs, success in their endeavors, and in their relationships. While they define themselves often by what others think about them, by their accomplishments, their possessions, and even their physical appearance, all the while there is this deep sense of DISCONTENTMENT. Because some people don’t know their real identity.
An early Christian philosopher once said: The most important cause of your sickness is that you’ve forgotten who you are. But this was never the experience of Jesus who always knew his identity. During his baptism, that identity was confirmed directly from heaven.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus reveals and restores our true identity. He shows us who we are. For the early Christians, the baptism of Jesus is a mystery. Why did Jesus receive baptism? John was proclaiming a baptism of repentance from sin. But Jesus was sinless. Why did he enter the waters of the Jordan River for baptism?
In his classic book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says, “only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly.” Sin darkens his mind and weakens his will. In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve didn’t listen to the Father. They didn’t allow the Word of the Father to penetrate their hearts. They rebelled and followed the Enemy out of paradise. With an evil choice, they became evil. They preferred their own will to the will of God. They became blind and deaf to the truth. Only a good man can repent. There is no good man except one — the GOD-MAN, the perfect and sinless man —Jesus of Nazareth.
And so we have come to the truth, the great mystery of the baptism of Jesus Christ. Jesus didn’t enter the waters of the Jordan to be sanctified but to sanctify the waters, to fill them with grace for the baptism of fire. Jesus did not receive baptism because he was in need of repentance but to turn our rebellious human nature back to God. There is still a deeper mystery, Jesus didn’t enter the waters of baptism to discover his own identity but in order to restore our identity. Jesus enters into the water so that the words of the Father might be spoken to us anew. “You are my beloved son, the one that I love, of whom I am well pleased.”
The baptism of Jesus reveals the mystery of our baptism. When we entered the waters in baptism, we were united to Christ. When we came out of those waters, the Holy Spirit rushed down on us and the Father spoke to us in the same words that he spoke to his son, “You are my beloved son, the one that I love, of whom I am well pleased.”
It was this Epiphany, this revelation of his identity as beloved Son that empowered his entire life and ministry. All these words and actions flow from his identity as the beloved Son. He taught because he was beloved. He walked on water because he was beloved. He prayed because he was beloved. He forgave because he was beloved. He ate and drank and slept because he was beloved. He picked up his cross and laid down his life because he was beloved by the Father. Jesus was certain of who He was because He knew who He was and knew what He had to do.
This is a great lesson for us because we often struggle to find meaning and purpose in our lives. We fight against the same sins, temptations, weaknesses, addictions, broken relationships, etc. We don’t understand why it is so hard to love. Why can’t we forgive and show mercy, patience, and humility?
It is because we haven’t fully embraced the words of the Father in the depths of our hearts.“You are my beloved son, the one that I love, of whom I am well pleased.” This is your identity. You are beloved of God. St.Paul says we are God’s children now. We are beloved of God now but we don’t really believe it in the depths of our hearts and so we are busy with so many diversions, rushing in our activities just to quell the anxiety in our hearts. We don’t listen. We don’t hear so we don’t believe. But like Christ, before you can witness and teach before you can labor and serve and lay down your life, you have to know your identity. You are beloved by the Father. This is the word that gives life. This is the word in which we have to find our rest. Jesus says that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we could say to a mountain to move and it would move. He’s talking about faith in God and God’s love for you. Faith in your identity. Why can’t we heal the sick? Why can’t we walk on water? Why can’t we calm storms? Why can’t we raise the dead? Why can’t we do the extraordinary things that the saints did? Because we don’t really believe as they did. We don’t truly believe that we are beloved of God.
As this Christmas season comes to an end, let’s spend some time in deep prayer. Listening to the words of the Father spoken over our lives. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to help us embrace our identity — I am God’s beloved!
Are we truly convinced that we are beloved by the Father? Are our words and actions reflective of someone who is truly convinced that God loves him/her?