Before I begin this reflection on the Epistle for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, Year A, I want to comment on Jeremiah 20:7, the beginning of one of the two possible Hebrew Bible readings for the day. “O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed.” (NRSV) Or, as translated in the King James: …”thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived…” Another translation uses “duped” rather than “enticed.” The Jerusalem Bible translates it as “You have seduced me, Yahweh, and I have let myself be seduced…” According to Rolf Knierim, my Hebrew Scriptures professor at Claremont, “seduced” may be the most accurate translation of the Hebrew. It connotes the tempting, tantalizing draw to which Jeremiah felt he had succumbed. As with most “victims” of seduction, Jeremiah tacitly admits that he has no one to “blame” for all that befalls him as a Prophet but himself. I like The Jerusalem Bible translation because it injects a bit of the sexual into Jeremiah’s otherwise difficult adventures as Yahweh’s prophet.
Now on to Paul’s letter to the Romans. The Epistle for the Easter Vigil uses the same passage, except that it starts with verse 3 (“Do you not know…” rather than 6:1. I like to start the Vigil proclamation with “My sisters and brothers, do you not know…”
As Jim Dunning pointed out many years ago, this is the first mystagogical reflection for all of us after the Vigil baptisms. Indeed, in the ’80’s, when we were still enjoying the flexibility of the RCIA in its early days of implementation, we discussed moving this passage so that it would be proclaimed immediately after the baptisms and associated initiatory rites. This was controversial at the time (and increasingly so as the rites of initiation become more “solidified) because it took the Epistle passage out of its “proper” order in the Liturgy of the Word. In 1984 I had the opportunity to drive Balthasar Fischer to the airport after he had spent several weeks at Notre Dame working with those who were studying and discussing the catechumenate. Dom Fischer is credited as the person who developed the RCIA to respond to the needs recognized in the Vat II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. In fact he chaired the study group that created the book of rites. I asked him what he thought of the idea of moving the Romans reading. He said, “Move it where you think best. The entire Liturgy of the Word in the Vigil is flexible.”
I like the idea of moving the reading because it is Paul’s reflection on the significance of baptism, of what the newly baptized and the assembly have just experienced. One could argue that the same selection “works” just prior to the baptisms. Leave it in its “proper” order in the Liturgy. But Paul is addressing those who are already “baptized into Christ Jesus,” not those who are about to be baptized. Paul is saying, now that we have experienced and witnessed this most recent baptismal event, remember — all of us have died so as to be raised. We have died to our old lives. We have died to sin so that we can be alive to Christ. New life overcomes death as long as we die to our old life.
One, two, three, four; what are we looking for? Are those traveling the path toward baptism looking for death? At the beginning of the Catechumenate journey, we ask the inquirers, “What do you seek?” The formulaic response is “faith.” (At Trinity, we let our seekers give their own responses. In my experience those responses are about seeking faith in the Christ Jesus.) We aren’t looking for death but we will find it along the path. We will find Jeremiah’s torment because God has murmured sweet somethings in our ears and we have let ourselves be seduced. But we will also find new life as we shed our old ways, our old lives.
Do you not know, my sisters and brothers, that we all celebrate death and resurrection during baptism? We celebrate Jesus’ resurrection to be our Christ. We celebrate our resurrection to be members of the Body of Christ. We celebrate new life.
“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:11)