Work, Identity, and God's Beloved

Work, Identity, and God's Beloved John 1:29-42

By Mihee Kim-Kort , Jan 15, 2017
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Second Sunday after the Epiphany

“Domestic work is the work that makes all other work possible.”

These are the words that are found on the front page of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), and “the nation’s leading voice or dignity and fairness for the millions of domestic workers in the United States, most of whom are women.”

Founded in 2007 by activist and MacArthur Genius Award recipient Ai-Jen Poo, NDWA works for the respect, recognition, and inclusion in labor protections for domestic workers: “Domestic workers care for the things we value the most: our families and our homes. They care for our children, provide essential support for seniors and people with disabilities to live with dignity at home, and perform the home care work that makes all other work possible. They are skilled and caring professionals, but for many years, they have labored in the shadows...These workers deserve respect, dignity and basic labor protections.” (https://www.domesticworkers.org/who-we-are)

Many workers who provide a myriad of services on a daily basis not only face huge disadvantages, they are simply overlooked by the wider population as some of the most marginalized among us. Jane M. Saks, the curator of Work in America, asks: “When did we stop valuing the worker? When did we stop valuing the person who does the job?” We have lost touch with the deep significance of work by separating the dignity, creativity, and livelihood of it from the individual person. In today’s emphasis on consumer capitalism - results and products - we have forgotten the interconnectedness of all our work, and the way we are baptized into the human community and live out that baptism through participating in purposeful work with our hands and feet.

For many Christians, baptism signals a new beginning, and a clean slate for life. It is also entrance into the Christian faith and participation in the work of the community. Likewise, Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan marked not only the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, but his identity as God’s son. In the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the writers record Jesus coming to John the Baptism, the descent of the dove, and the voice from heaven proclaiming to Jesus’ belovedness.

Yet, in the gospel of John we receive a second-hand account from John the Baptizer as he witnesses: “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

The versions in Matthew, Mark, and Luke give us a dramatic glimpse of the inauguration of this new kingdom that Jesus’ will work to reveal through his teachings and miracles. Jesus began his ministry there, by “crossing the Jordan,” portraying him as a new Joshua who would begin his prophetic ministry to Israel and to the world leading them to the new Promised Land. So, it is no coincidence that the baptism takes place at the River Jordan, a sacred geographical marker full of rich motifs. This is the same place, not far from Jericho, where the Israelites crossed when they entered the land of Canaan and experienced God’s presence. As the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant stepped into the river, the waters of the Jordan were cut off and the Israelites could cross it on dry ground (Joshua 3:14-17). Later, the prophet Elijah crossed the Jordan on dry ground with Elisha just before he was taken up to heaven on a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:8). Elisha then returned to Israel in the same way, crossing the Jordan on dry ground to inaugurate his own prophetic ministry (2 Kings 2:14). Jesus begins his work - anointed and ordained, given legitimacy by God’s own voice.

Yet, the dramatic presentation at the Jordan River is not found in the gospel of John. Rather, we read about the baptism of Jesus as a part of John’s testimony as it precedes the call stories of the first disciples. Jesus’ work is validated by the same story: John’s baptism as a signal of the fulfilment of ancient prophecies, the appearance of the dove anointing him, and the voice of God coming down from heaven. But, in John, it is rooted in the context of the burgeoning community he begins to gather around himself. Jesus’ identity and ministry is made meaningful by the community he forms, joins, and grows with throughout his life on earth. His work is intertwined with the work of humanity.

Jesus’ ministry and work were never separated from his identity as God’s beloved. But it was also fleshed out through and in his connection to the beloved community. There are eternal implications of the shared life of the beloved disciples with Jesus and the continuous work of recognition of their own humanity as a sign of baptism. All their work is rooted in baptism because each are called out by the voice of love, each are recognized in their humanity as God’s beloved. And, this is what made their work for the kingdom possible. 

 

Bible Study Questions:

 

1.    In what ways might you see baptism as God’s call to participate in Christian community?

2.    How does Jesus model a healthy way of intertwining his identity with ministry? What issues or problems do we see with the lack of boundaries of between our identity and work?

3.    How are baptism and vocation connected? What does it mean for the priesthood of all believers?

 

For Further Reading:

Ai-Jen Poo, The Age of Dignity: Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America

Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Embracing the Other: The Transformative Spirit of Love

Peter Block, Community: The Structure of Belonging

 

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ON Scripture - The Bible is made possible by generous grants from the Lilly Endowment and the Henry Luce Foundation

 

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