Recently, while praying the first Luminous Mystery of the Rosary, the Baptism of Our Lord in the Jordan River, I thought of a point I have often heard made in preaching on this feast — the claim that the Father says of us, “This is My beloved son or daughter,” just as He said it of Jesus. Perhaps it is because I am currently taking a class on the Trinity that I suddenly realized how wrong this statement actually is.
You and I are not sons and daughters of the Father “just as” Jesus is. Rather, there is an enormous difference between the way in which Jesus is Son and the way in which we are sons and daughters. Jesus is the eternally begotten Son of the Father. The Word — the second Person in the Blessed Trinity — is the Son. This relation to the Father is Who He is as a distinct Person in the one Godhead.
We, however, are sons and daughters by adoption. Through our baptism, we become “sons in the Son.” While this is a real sonship, it is not equivalent to the Sonship of Jesus, who is God Himself.
“But why the big deal?” some may ask. Are we not just splitting hairs? Far from it. Let us consider the ramifications of following the claim that we are sons and daughters “just as” Jesus is. To make this claim is to imply that we have everything that Jesus had, that there is nothing special about Him over and above us. It is to close the gap between us — either to raise ourselves to the level of divinity or to lower Jesus to the level solely of humanity. Ultimately, it could lead to confusion over a fundamental truth of our faith: that Jesus is God.
Many in our world today see Jesus as simply another religious figure, who started one of the world’s major religions. But as Christians, we claim something shockingly bold: this man Jesus, who walked on our earth 2,000 years ago, is none other than the living God! The God who created the heavens and earth and all that is in them, the God who created you and me — this is Who Jesus is.
The Church has recently highlighted for us in the United States this truth that Jesus is God. At the end of the Collect (Opening Prayer) of every Mass now, you will hear, “God forever and ever,” instead of “one God forever and ever.” This change was made to align our English translation more closely with original texts. In fact, “God” at the end of the prayer is not referring to the three Persons of the Trinity — as “one God” implies — but to Jesus Himself. The Church boldly puts into our prayers this proclamation of our faith: Jesus is God!
Only if we get this truth of who Jesus is right will we be able also to make sense of the fact that we ourselves are made “sons (and daughters) in the Son.” When we know that He is the Son of God, we recognize the glory to which baptism raises us — graced participation in the life of God Himself — while recognizing that this is something we could never be worthy of or deserve. Our sonship is a completely gratuitous gift from God!
May we have the courage to proclaim that Jesus is God and to invite others into friendship with Him through baptism, that they too might become “sons (or daughters) in the Son.”
Sr. Mary Martha Becnel is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.