The Baptism of the Lord
"After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying." (Lk. 3:15-16, 21-22)
Joseph A. Brown, S. J., Ph.D. is one of those dramatists, artists, poets, and sages that you must encounter in your lifetime. I met Fr. Brown in 1993 while attending Xavier Institute for Black Catholic Studies in New Orleans. In the short time at the Institute, mesmerized by his oratory skills, I wanted to glean the rich insight that proceeded from him when he spoke about the spirituals. Here I knew that he was a discerning man who had drunk the blood, wiped the sweat, and dried many tears in the Black Catholic community through his understanding of the spirituals.
One can find an example of Fr. Brown's rich knowledge of the spirituals in a video published by Creighton University in 2012. The primary focus in his presentation was on Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. During this insightful talk, Fr. Brown shared his wisdom from the spiritual Wade in the Water. As he talked, he reminded his audience that the only way someone could sing this song was that the lead singer knew something about wading in the water. From Fr. Brown's perspective, the leader had experience getting in the water, even though it was chilly and cold. The leader knew that his soul was not cold; in fact, it was on fire, believing that God was in the troubling waters leading him to freedom land. But here is the pearl of wisdom in this spiritual. The leader after traveling through troubling waters now turns towards those on the other side, still in chains or spiritual bondage. He/She tells them the secret to freedom is to Wade in the Water; God will be in the water.
Consequently, we can use this song to sing to those unsettled by the racial issues in our country: poor health care programs, low-income housing, or perhaps the moral fabric in our society that is shredded because of inequality. We, who made it to the other side of freedom or knew Christ, need to sing Wade in the Water to those still trying to make it. Our brothers and sisters, from another mother, must understand that God will be present in the water.
For this reason, on the Baptism of the Lord, let's highlight this verse from our gospel today. "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..." Here, heaven opened after Jesus waded in the water and prayed. Blessings came down in the form of a dove, and then God spoke: "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."
God is pleased when we help others to Wade in the Water. As baptized believers in Christ, we evangelize just like John the Baptist, who helped thousands of people along with Jesus to wade in the water. Let's invite others into the water, or as our ancestor, Congressman and Civil Rights Leader, John Lewis said Good Trouble. God was with us as we waded through troubling waters in 2021, and we made it through. We are stronger and much wiser; we are better. You, Lord, blessed me in troublesome waters as I reflect over my life.
Thank you, Fr. Joseph Brown, for teaching me to Wade in the Water.
Author: Evangelist Michael P. Howard, MACS