I have had the opportunity to visit the catacombs in Rome. The tunnels (literally the local cemeteries) where the early Christians gathered in secret to worship during times of persecution. Here the Christians proclaimed Scripture and shared Eucharist. Rome’s catacombs go deep into the earth. I share this image because every time I walk down the stairs to the basement chapel of the Catholic Center at ETSU I think of my experience of entering the catacombs. Our little basement chapel is a catacomb church. We are getting back to our roots and we are about something subversive – just as subversive today as it was two thousand years ago. Like those first Christians as we break open Scripture and Eucharist we are being formed by something different than what the world offers.
There will always be a subversive component to the Christian faith because our faith is about that which is more than the world. An example: our world promotes upward mobility which, in and of itself, has nothing inherently wrong with it – we want to achieve and use the gifts God has given us, we want to be successful at what we do and provide for those we love and care for. What the gospels proclaim throughout their message though is not upward but rather downward mobility. The Son emptied himself and became human, “born in the likeness of a slave”. Isaiah prophesied the one who would bring justice but not by a show of power and might but by “not crying out, not shouting … a bruised reed he shall not break.” Jesus comes to John (not John to Jesus) and by so doing joins himself to all the disenfranchised people – the ones of no worth – who were looking for something more. Jesus humbles himself and is baptized by John. Downward mobility.
This is what is put before us. If, in the area of church life, upward mobility is gauged by mega-churches, donations flowing in, larger and larger crowds then how is downward mobility gauged in the life of a faith community? Not quantifiable but qualitatively. Walls are torn down, hearts are opened, reconciliation is sought rather than competition, there is a willingness to serve and seek and to find in the one being served not just another “client” or a means to my own sanctification but Christ himself.
It is not a numbers game – it is about so much more. Today’s feast calls us back to our roots, it calls us to be subversive and to make Jesus proud! But, before we jump into the fray, we need to be wise. We cannot do this on our own – there is hardship, struggle and just plain evil that we will face. The baptism of Jesus is connected to our own individual baptisms not because Jesus needed the cleansing from sin that we do but because we need to hear the words of the Father which he heard. We need this grace because only by it can we continue in the subversive life of the Kingdom – living downward mobility. Through Jesus and our baptism into his very life and death, the Father says to us, “You are my beloved son, You are my beloved daughter – with whom I am well pleased.” This is the grace which saves.