Incarnate Forever – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Mark 1:7-11, Baptism of Our Lord

One thing I love to do is to shock my students by reminding them of things about Jesus I’m sure they’ve forgotten. For example, a few days after I uploaded my lecture-video on the Resurrection, a student commented: “OMG! I’ve forgotten that Jesus resurrected as both soul and body.” Then, another wrote: “I didn’t realize Jesus is still both divine and human after the Resurrection.” It just goes to show, sisters and brothers, that we often forget how human Jesus still is, as he is divine. And when was the last time that you professed your conviction Jesus still has a body today? Because what have we done? We’ve distinguished the divine from the human, such that if Jesus is fully spirit and fully divine, when someone says he is also bodily and also fully human, we recoil and think there’s a reek of blasphemy somewhere, don’t we? Well, Jesus is fully divine, yes. But he is still also fully human. Yes, Jesus is Spirit. But he has a body, glorified in the Resurrection. If this shocks you, then you know what my students felt. It’s not really our fault when we forget, sisters and brothers. It’s centuries-old baggage. Christians thought they honored and consecrated the divine and spiritual when they depreciated and execrated the human and the bodily. Today, we’re still strung up with that baggage, even when we imagine Jesus.

When I was in college, our teacher in Advertising often came late for class. Tardy as usual, she burst into the classroom one morning, huffing and puffing. But we noticed, only her right eye had eye-shadow. The other was bare as a monk’s head. “I’m sorry class,” she said, catching her breath that kept running away from her (probably in horror). “I was driving in traffic and I could do only one eye.” Well, whenever we think and& talk of Jesus today as though he were only spirit and not body, and as though he were only divine and not human, that’s like the face of my teacher: lopsided, seriocomic, and bizarre.

John was baptizing sinners, washing their sins away. Jesus coming to him for baptism was lopsided, seriocomic, and bizarre. Imagine how John must’ve been weirded out when the very Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world, showed up to be baptized. I mean, think about this: what if Pope Francis walked up to me and said, “Arnel, would you hear my confession?” I mean, can I refuse? But if I don’t refuse, I would feel that saying “yes” to him would be tantamount to telling him that he’s a sinner, right? Well, of course I know that Popes sin, somehow. But, you know what I mean, right? “No!” John actually told Jesus. Then, he back-pedaled. “Okay, if you want me to. But, no it would be wrong. You are no sinner. You forgive us. But I did say I’d make straight the way of the Lord.”

Jesus was just about to begin his ministry that day. It was what he had decided to do with the rest of his life after tending to his parents. It was momentous. He must’ve felt he could use some blessing from God. But he needed it in a way he could see it, hear it, feel it against his skin. So, off he went to the Jordan to John, whereupon Jesus lined up with sinners, waited for his turn, waist-deep in sludge-brown water, and finally, gave himself over for complete submersion. This was total immersion, sisters and brothers. Not just a dainty sprinkling or a delicate pouring, no. Total immersion…into everything imaginably, practically, deeply human. Jesus was so deep in down-to-earth humanity but it was John who felt himself drowning in a river of bewilderment.

Sisters and brothers, we’re the only religion in the world that professes belief in a God who became human like us in all things but sin. Our conviction that Jesus is Spirit and divine and unflappable. But we need to pinch ourselves to remember that the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world is also still fully human today, with a glorified body. Yes, today, not just back in Nazareth. Today.

When you get together with friends next time, might I suggest a reflection question? If you believe that Jesus is fully human today, with a glorified body, what implications does his continuous humanity and bodiliness have on our religion, on our prayer, on our morals, on how we treat our bodies and each other’s, etc.? And what dangers lurk behind a lopsided, seriocomic, absurd face of Jesus who is only divine and only Spirit?

The Incarnation, I keep telling my students, is not just a one-time-big-time day we peg on December 25. No; incarnating is God’s being and behavior. Incarnating is the total immersion of the divine into everything that is human, into all that is us, save sin. God doesn’t shed his divinity in being Jesus. And Jesus doesn’t surrender his humanity in being God. That is the complete “face” of God. It is what pleases him to be.

Last week, I read something that absorbed me all eight days of my retreat. It said: “(We humans) have a stupid desire to be God (while) Christ (had the) complete desire to be a person.” As Christmas season ends, sisters and brothers, may we never forget that God Incarnating is forever.

*image from the Internet

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