Breath of the Spirit: An Abiding and Indwelling Love
Today’s reflection connects Jesus’s baptism with the mission and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King. The indwelling of the Divine in Jesus as proclaimed at his baptism applies to us: as a gift and a challenge. God’s spirit remains in us not just so we might experience ourselves as loved, but so that we might participate in such Love remaining alive and active in every corner of our world.
January 15, 2023: Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Isaiah 49:3, 5-6
Psalm 40:2-4, 7-8, 8-9, 10
I Corinthians 1:1-3
An Abiding and Indwelling Love
A reflection by Jon Schum
The Second Sunday in Ordinary time across all three liturgical cycles features texts from the gospel of John. Although the event of the baptism of Jesus was highlighted in Advent, it returns as the focal point in today’s gospel. The evangelist seamlessly moves from the narrative of Jesus’ origin (John 1) to the witness of John in the desert. Unlike the synoptic gospels, the fourth gospel offers no details on the baptism from Jesus, but instead relies on the Baptist’s perspective.
Without Jesus yet uttering a word, John identifies Jesus as the Pre-existent One, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the One upon whom the Spirit descended, the One who will baptize with the Holy Spirit, and the Chosen One of God. It is as if all that the evangelist intends to say about Christ is summarized in these testimonials.
The title “Lamb of God” could refer to ritual sacrificial practices, but more likely refers to the faithful suffering servant in Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (the first reading for the Liturgy of Good Friday). There are four such “servant oracles” in the Book of Isaiah. The actual identity of this servant is mysterious, but it is more important to focus on the servant’s mission. Early Christian believers were quick to embrace this image of the obedient servant as fulfilled in Jesus.
Today’s first reading is a portion of the second servant oracle. Its lofty tone proclaims that this servant, formed to be so in the womb and glorious in the sight of God, will not only restore Israel but will be a light to the nations, bringing salvation to the ends of the earth. Perhaps this is the Jesus that John encounters at the Jordan, the one “who ranks ahead of me because this One existed before me.” John the Baptizer testifies to the Light, …the true light through whom all might believe (John 1.7-9). Jesus is the Lamb of God, who will embrace and redeem the brokenness of the world.
John recounts that the Spirit descended like a dove to remain upon Jesus. The evangelist uses this word “remain” frequently. It appears 11 times in chapter 15 as Jesus employs the image of the vine and the branches: “Remain in me as I remain in you…whoever remains in me and I in them will bear much fruit.”
“Remain” can strike one as a static or even dormant state. But for the author(s) of John’s gospel and epistles, “remain” is an intentional, focused, vibrant, and ongoing abiding-in and abiding-with. This indwelling is not a one-time occurrence, exclusive to a chosen few; it is the constitutive principle of all Christian life. We are never left alone or abandoned, even though life’s challenges and burdens may leave us feeling aloft and bewildered. God remains with us and so we are called to remain in God.
Similarly, St. Paul often uses the expression to be “in Christ” – to abide in Christ as Christ abides in us. Paul’s greeting to the Church at Corinth, expresses a deep hope that we cherish our identity made holy in Christ Jesus and our calling to be a holy people, always ready wherever we may be, to call on the name of Christ Jesus our redeemer.
We also find a nascent theology of the Trinity in the gospel today. The Spirit, sent from heaven descends on the Savior. A community within itself, Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier are in dynamic and interactive indwelling with one another. Richard Rohr, OFM, writes, “Whatever is going on in God is a flow, a radical relatedness, a perfect communion between Three – a circle dance of love. And God is not just a dancer; God is the dance itself.” (The Divine Dance, p. 27, emphasis in original).
We are drawn into this divine dance, the life of the Trinity, through the path Jesus provides: As Abba God loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I…remain in (Abba God’s) love” (John 15:10). This sentiment is echoed in the First Letter of John: “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in them.” (4:16).
After years of deliberation, today (January 15, 2023), here in Boston, the city will dedicate a stunning new memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King. “Called The Embrace, the 22-foot-tall sculpture represents the hands of King and Scott King, evoking images of the couple—and other protesters—arm-in-arm in peaceful marches for civil rights as well as the power of physical togetherness in declaring resistance against injustice. ‘The Embrace’ also embodies Scott King’s emphasis on the transformative power of empathy—and putting it into action. Visitors to the sculpture will be readily reflected in its mirror-finish bronze, making them part of the installation.” One can step into the center of this circular embrace and gaze upward toward the heavens.
In the words of Dr. King, “Love is the greatest force in the universe. It is the heartbeat of the moral cosmos. (The one) who loves is a participant in the being of God.” It is in that “heartbeat of the moral cosmos” that Dr. King, and today’s readings, encourage us to remain.
Jon Schum and his husband Ron Lacro are longtime Dignity Boston members. Jon has served on its board and liturgy committee and is one of the chapter's ordained presiders. For many years he supervised and provided arts-based therapeutic programming for an elder services agency in Boston. He is currently a co-facilitator of the Aging with Dignity caucus and board member at DignityUSA.