In the past couple of years I’ve been reading a comic on the Internet on occasion: Coffee With Jesus. Well, I check it out when one of my friends puts it on Facebook. It’s just four frames, and a group of stock characters rotate through to ask questions or make comments and Jesus talks back. The most interesting thing is that although He has the classic long hair and beard, He’s also wearing a coat and tie while holding a coffee cup. It makes sense: we want to see Jesus as one of us and that reflected in art throughout history.
As we turn to the beginning of ordinary time, our scripture readings will dwell on the beginning of Jesus’ adult life. Today’s Gospel is reading is remarkable because we have a second hand account by John about Jesus’ baptism. Jesus doesn’t make any impression at all: he’s just an ordinary looking person in the midst of ordinary looking people. John doesn’t recognize him who he is until the time comes for his baptism, and it’s only then that Jesus’ identity as the promised one is revealed. The language John uses isn’t the royal language of the old testament but the suffering servant language of Isaiah. The expectation of the time about the Messiah is a man who would rescue them from Roman oppression, an oppression made unbearable not only because it ruthlessly represses dissent, but is also full of corruption and mismanagement. The local temple establishment was also known as corrupt, so much that the Essenes withdrew to the desert and refused to have anything to do with the Temple. Some thought that the Messiah would come from David’s house, some thought he would come from the priestly class, some expected two Messiahs: a Davidic ruler and a holy priest. From the beginning of Jesus’ adult life, there is something different, something unexpected about this man. Jesus is the Messiah, the unexpected one, the ordinary man, the one who suffers rather than conquers.
If Jesus were here in the flesh today, I would expect to see someone ordinary, someone who could blend in with the crowd. I would expect to see Jesus at Applebee’s, Starbucks, the AMC theater, or someplace ordinary in the neighborhood. I wouldn’t expect Jesus to be hanging around with the powerful all the time, but in conflict with them when they were acting in short-sighted self interest. I would expect so see him crying with people, turning to people in need, challenging our preconceptions. I would expect Jesus to be someone I’d be a little uncomfortable around at first, whose friendship grows richer with time and companionship.
It’s through baptism that our true nature emerges. By joining Christ in baptism, we too embrace the world as he did. Our call to discipleship comes from that moment, and as we go through time our challenge is to stay in touch with the water, stay in touch with our true nature. That is why we gather around this table every week. That is why we listen to the Word of God, particularly to the life of Christ. That is why we reach out to touch Jesus, to see his life working through our lives.
One of our challenges of faith isn’t seeing how much Jesus looks like us. It’s being able to look in the mirror and see Jesus. As Church, we’re called to be the presence of Christ in the world. The world will see us: how we are, what we do and what we say. Our success or failure won’t be how much Christ looks like us, but how much we look like Christ.