Ordinary Time I: A Time for Decreasing and Increasing
As we entered into the third season of our liturgical year, Ordinary Time, we heard the story of Jesus’ baptism by his cousin John in the Jordan River. Each of the evangelists includes an account of his baptism and each one is slightly different in details, though not in the basic story.
John had been preaching and baptizing for some time. Good, God-fearing men and women were coming to the banks of the Jordan River to hear his call to repentance and to be plunged into the waters of the river — a river whose very waters had stopped flowing to allow the Israelites to enter the land so many centuries earlier as they completed their forty years of sojourning in the desert.
Jesus’ unusual experience
Jesus too, a good man, deeply religious, and attuned to the spirit and traditions of his faith, arrived and requested baptism. The prophet agreed to baptize him and something happened to him that was different from the experience of the others. Jesus experienced the presence and blessing of God in a unique way: as gently yet suddenly as the landing of a dove, the Spirit of God settled upon him. The heavens opened to his awareness and God spoke to him directly, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mk 1:11, Lk 3:22) Of those around him at that moment, only John noticed anything different. Later John testified that at first he didn’t recognize Jesus as the one whose coming he’d been sent to announce, but when the Spirit came upon Jesus, he understood that Jesus was the One.
John kept baptizing and preaching. Jesus went off to the desert to pray and begin to sort out what had just happened and what the implications might be. Nothing noticeable changed for a while. But when Jesus returned from his forty day retreat, having faced down temptations to seek material security, political power, and adulation as a wonder worker, things began to change. Jesus and a few followers began to move around in the same general area near the Jordan where John was baptizing and Jesus began to teach. Some of Jesus’ disciples began to baptize those who came to listen as John had been doing.
John’s disciples came to him with the word that someone else was now baptizing. Unspoken but implied in the narrative is the question, “What should we do about this? Should we try to stop Jesus and his followers?” John’s response was simple and direct, “He must increase, I must decrease.” (Jn 3:30)
Increasing and Decreasing in Ordinary Time
Ordinary Time, the time of counted weeks, is the time in which we reflect on the mysteries we have experienced and celebrated in the other great seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. It is a time to watch for and seek to recognize the movement of the Spirit in our lives and world today.
The season of Ordinary Time between Christmas and Lent offers the stories of the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry. We see the wonder of the preaching and miracles as God enters powerfully into our messy human reality as the most human person who has ever existed. That person healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, touched the leper, demanded justice for the oppressed, and taught in words, stories, and images that even the simplest, least educated members of his society could understand. The good news he brought was that not only does God care what we do and how we do it, but also that God loves us all so much that he wants to be totally immersed in our experiences and lives, becoming one of us to show us how to live as his children.
With John, during this season of Ordinary Time we are called to look at our lives and service to our community, asking ourselves how we can decrease and Jesus can increase. We are called to take a hard look at the work we do and step out of the spotlight, so the face of God may shine more fully through our lives and into our world today.
How are you doing this? How will I do it? Does the way we live our lives as Catholics on California’s Central Coast matter? I think John would say it does. We must decrease and He must increase.