All the people who listened, including the tax collectors, and who were baptized with the baptism of John, acknowledged the righteousness of God; but the Pharisees and scholars of the law, who were not baptized by him, rejected the plan of God for themselves. ~Lk 7:29-30
There is in my family the famous story of the three-year-old boy watching his infant cousin being baptized. As she reacted vociferously to the splash of the holy but cold water on her head, the boy leaned over to his mother and confided, “I don’t want to be baptized.” (Luckily, the sacrament had long since been conferred and its more disruptive physical effects forgotten!)
As adults, or near-adults, we often don’t want to be baptized either. Like the young boy shrinking from the idea of the cold water, we try to avoid the shock of the reality of Christ. We hesitate to participate in what Jesus praises in today’s Gospel as the “baptism of John” because it requires us to acknowledge the righteousness of God instead of taking pride in our own spiritual and material successes. In our prayer lives, self-congratulation must yield to repentance: that is, a thorough and unsparing examination of our unrighteousness.
To submit to the baptism of John is to admit that we don’t always get it right, in a myriad of ways. We wield our tongues as swords and our eyes as spears. We allow technology to disrupt or hamper real human connection. We withdraw in sadness or lash out in anger. When we confess our many failings, and surrender our fiercely held autonomy to the greater wisdom and power of the One who loves us, then we are truly acknowledging the righteousness of God. The process of doing so may shock us for a moment, but it will change us, too.
Perfect God, May I have the grace and humility to acknowledge your glory and to accept your plan for my life. Amen.