Sixty years ago in 1959, John Howard Griffin wrote the best-selling book, Black Like Me. It was the story of how Griffin darkened his skin with medical treatments and traveled through the deep South of the United States. He wanted to experience the racial divisions of our country. The only way to know what it was like to be black, Griffin decided, was to become black himself.
His six-week odyssey through the South as a black person was a journey into racism. He was given the “hate stare” by dozens of white strangers. He was stalked by a white young man. He was insulted and disrespected by whites in nearly every encounter he had. Griffin’s book helped lay the foundation for the early civil rights movement. It has sold over 10 million copies.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus. As we hear today’s Gospel, we are immediately confronted with a problem. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. Sinful people were coming to John to be baptized in the Jordan River.
John is surprised to see Jesus coming to him for baptism. John realizes that Jesus has no sins for the waters of the Jordan to wash away. Jesus by now realizes that God the Father has a special plan for him. Jesus is the one who will show men and women how to have a personal relationship with God. To fulfill his mission and to bring about God’s Kingdom, Jesus came into the world as a baby. Just like us in all things but sin.
In order for Jesus to be like us, he identifies with us in all that we do, even baptism. Just like John Howard Griffin became black in order to understand the experiences and difficulties of black people, Jesus became a human person. He undergoes baptism to understand what sin causes, without being a sinner himself. One with God.
The Jewish word mikva means blessing and it was often used at the time of Jesus. When a woman got pregnant she went to the rabbi or the priest. He poured water on her and blessed her. It was a sign that her life was going to change now that she was going to give birth to a child.
When a person moved to another town they asked the rabbi for a mikva because they were starting all over again. Jesus may well have been asking John for a blessing, a mikva, a beautiful ritual. Jesus was now starting his public life. A God Nod.
This Feast of the Baptism of Jesus invites us to think of our own baptism. Many of us were infants and asleep or cried our way through it. In many respects it was the most important day of our life. We are not just someone’s child with a mom and a dad. We are God’s Child!
The heavens opened up for Jesus at his baptism and God spoke: “You are my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.” God was whispering those same words when you and I were baptized. “You are my beloved son…daughter.” A God Whisper. A beloved is someone who pleases God. That is how we are to live – by doing and saying what pleases God.
One of the basic questions we need to ask ourselves is: “Do we really see ourselves as beloved? As a precious child of God, put on this earth to do and to say what is pleasing to God. Most of the time I kid myself because I do and I say what is pleasing to ME. I am beloved to ME!
And besides myself, do I see others as beloved to God as well? Even though 60 years has gone by since John Howard Griffin wrote his book, racism, intolerance and prejudice still very much exist in our midst and in our hearts. Just ask someone who is black, brown, gay or an immigrant. Oh the stories they can tell you!
A dozen years ago the Washington Post decided to try something unusual. A reporter wanted to see what would happen if they hired a world-famous violinist to play during rush hour on a Washington, DC subway platform. Would anybody notice? Would anybody stop and listen?
So the Washington Post hired Joshua Bell, one of the greatest living violinists. Bell has a number of best-selling albums and has played in concert halls around the world. He thought the idea would be fun and he agreed to do it.
One morning he put on jeans and a sweatshirt and went into the DC subways at rush hour. He unpacked his most prized possession – a $3 million Stradivarius. He started playing Shubert’s Ave Maria and other famous classical pieces. He played for over an hour. No one stopped to listen. One little boy paused, enthralled, but his mother quickly pulled him away.
A few people threw in pocket change as they hurried by. Not one person stopped to listen to the most beautiful music in the world being played for free by a most gifted musician on a $3 million Stradivarius. For the hour Joshua Bell collected $32.00 in spare change.
In heaven, God the Father was saying: “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”
God the Father says the same about Jesus. God the Father says the same about YOU!