January 17, 2013 by eneubauer
Recently, I have been lamenting the loss of our understanding of symbolic language. Within Christian culture there is a prevalence toward the acceptance of pure literalism – taking Biblical language and interpreting its meaning in a literal sense (in almost every situation). This approach ignores the different literary genres within Sacred Scripture leading to misinterpretation. Within our very post-Christian culture there seems to be a rejection of truly great literature (both religious & secular) in favor of poorly written novels, magazines, newspaper articles, radio & television. In consuming words utilizing this approach (literalism only) or from these outlets alone we have created a situation where many within society are at a loss for what great literature has to offer – especially that of a religious nature.
In light of what I just said about symbolic language let me share from a specifically Catholic perspective. I lament the loss of message that takes place within the context of our gospel readings at mass. The readings have become so familiar and the action of reading itself so routine that many are at a loss to grasp the deeper meaning of the powerful yet symbolic language within the New Testament. If one takes time to really listen to the messaging within the Message one will find the meaning powerful, profound and quite challenging. However, often we walk away unfazed with little or no time taken for quiet reflection.
Last week’s reading during the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord was filled with deep meaning and a truly challenging message. Let’s “listen” together: Luke 3: 15-16, 21-22
“The people were filled with expectation,
and all were asking in their hearts
whether John might be the Christ.
John answered them all, saying,
“I am baptizing you with water,
but one mightier than I is coming.
I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
After all the people had been baptized
and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying,
heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him
in bodily form like a dove.
And a voice came from heaven,
“You are my beloved Son;
with you I am well pleased.”
As John the Baptizer came to deliver the baptism of repentance Jesus came to be baptized and then to baptize with the “Holy Spirit and fire.”
Have you ever wondered what it actually means to be baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire? Have you ever meditated on what these words actually mean for those who have come to accept Christ and his Catholic Church?
Let me be honest. Our problem isn’t pure lack of scriptural knowledge – that would be too easy. I believe it is the lack of time we devote to actually thinking about what a particular scripture means. It’s not that we don’t know scripture it’s that we don’t KNOW scripture. The stories are quite familiar but the meaning is strange because we have allowed an overly busy, hyper-connected world to ruin the space American’s used to use to read, think / process, reflect / meditate, write, converse and apply. We treat Sacred Scripture like an acquaintance when it should be treated like one that we love and adore (intimate, understood, familiar).
I write today because of the fireworks that went off in my spirit when I heard the gospel reading during the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord. When I heard (again) that Jesus the Christ baptizes with the Holy Spirit and fire I immediately thought, “EXPLOSION” in the spirit realm. When I hear and mediate on these words (+ their meaning) I think about three things:
- Jesus’ baptism for those who believe is Transformative in nature. In Christ our lives will never be the same. The transformation is unique, life-long, and direction altering. One has to see in order to accept.
- Jesus’ baptism is Powerful. Fire is a force filled with such power that we are taught from a very early age to be careful around its flame. It is that flame that Christ uses to purify us for love of God & neighbor.
- Jesus’ baptism is one that connects us to intimate relationship with our Savior. It is no mistake that throughout the New Testament God utilizes the idea of the marital union to describe the kind of relationship He wants to have with his people.
I use these three examples today not to say that they are the sole interpretation of this passage but to encourage you to spend time thinking on the Word God gives us each and every day. Don’t just read the words of Sacred Scripture but listen to the meaning behind the words and within the colorful language and powerful examples. When you do this you will be forever changed and find strength for the journey.
May God bless your pilgrim’s path.