Sunday, June 30, 2018
13th Sunday (Ordinary Time)
June 30, 2019
There is a familiar maxim that says, “Clothes Make the Man; Clothes Make the Woman.” It is true that clothes can express externally what is distinctive about a person. Clothes can even reveal a person’s profession or career. Doctors wear white jackets and police officers dress in blue uniforms.
In today’s first reading, Elijah, the zealous prophet of ancient Israel, removed his mantle which identified him as a prophet and threw it over the shoulders of Elisha. Concerned about his aging, he sought out the rich farmer Elisha because he recognized that God wanted Elisha to become a prophet under Elijah’s training and mentorship. In truth, who else would dare confront the abominable Ahab, the 9thCentury ruler over the northern kingdom of the Jews, and his venomous queen, Jezebel, as well as the entire power structure of Israel after Elijah was no longer on the scene? Who would uphold the Torah and announce God’s will to all the people? Elijah’s cloak was a symbol of his role as a prophet. It was now to be worn by Elisha. Hereafter, Elisha would be clothed as God’s prophet in Israel.
Nine centuries after these two great prophets, Paul writes to the newly baptized Christians of Galatia about their having clothed themselves at baptism. “All of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves in him.” Paul appears to be alluding to the practice of the catechumens who, when they emerged from the pool of baptismal water, immediately clothed themselves in a long white garment. It seems that this custom was in imitation of the Greek mystery religions where the newly initiated clothed themselves in robes similar to the ones worn by the pagan gods whose cult the Galatians intended to practice. To be “Clothed in Christ” meant to live in imitation of Jesus, to live the Gospel of Jesus proclaimed to the catechumens. Paul tells us in his Letter to the Ephesians: “You must put aside your old self and put on, that is, clothe yourself with the new self of goodness and holiness.” In the 4thCentury, Cyril of Jerusalem tells us: “Having been baptized into Christ and having put on Christ, you are conformed to the Son of God.”
In our own present-day baptismal rite, immediately following the pouring of the water and the anointing with oil, the priest or deacon presents the newly baptized person not only with a lighted candle symbolizing Christ the Light of the World but also with a white garment, saying: “You have become a new creation and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in the white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity.”
What then are the consequences of baptism, of clothing ourselves in Christ? In today’s second reading, Paul tells us: “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” Yes, we have clothed ourselves with freedom, freedom from enslavement to the old self, the self of the flesh, a flesh opposed to God, a flesh centered only on oneself, a flesh of total self-indulgence. In a word, a flesh that is the secular self, the unredeemed self, set apart from God and opposed to the values of the Gospel.
Rather, Paul summons us to embrace the freedom given to us when we were baptized. In the liberating water of baptism, we have been blessed with God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit. Putting on our new self in Christ means to be for God and for others, to serve God and others.
My sisters and brothers in the faith: At our baptism, we clothed ourselves in a new garment, the garment of Jesus Christ. That garment has made us new persons. Indeed, the label on that new clothing is not Ralph Lauren, J.S. Banks, Calvin Klein or any of the labels on the elegant apparel of the fashion industry’s houses of high culture. No! The label on our garment is simply, “Jesus Christ.” In our baptism, that is the label on the garment in which we have been clothed. Wearing that garment means we live in the Spirit and by the Spirit of Jesus Christ. We live a life of grace, a life of virtue, a life of total imitation of Christ. In a word, we are to follow him, as Jesus reminds us in today’s Gospel.
He summons us to live as witnesses of God’s kingdom within our world. Through our baptism, you and I have been clothed in the mantle of Christ. We are to wear that mantle as his missionary disciples, as ambassadors of hispeace and joy, of his truth and love in our deeply divided country and our fractured world desperately in need of knowing that God’s kingdom is at hand.
Rev. Bill Watters, SJ
St. Ignatius Church
740 N. Calvert Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21202