The readings show a difference between the identity people perceive in us and the identity we proclaim in the
Introductory Rites of the Mass and when we say, “Our Father, who art in heaven...” We are children of God.
In Daniel 1:1-20 the king wants to take some young Israelites into the king’s palace to be “taught the language and literature of the Chaldeans.” A wise move: to train them to a new identity and identification with the Chaldean culture so they can serve their new ruler as liaisons with their own people.
Daniel and his companions refused to eat the non-kosher Chaldean food. They knew, as applied to culture, what Jesus told St. Augustine later about Eucharist: “You will not change me into yourself like bodily food; but you will be changed into me.” We “become what we eat.” What we take in from the society around us assimilates us into itself, not vice-versa.1
To take in Chaldean food and customs would be to give up identity as Jews. So they refused, and God kept them healthier with kosher food than the rest were with food from the royal table.
As Christians, we eat divine food from our Father’s table: the Bread of Life. And we become what we eat: we become divine. We become Christ.
In Luke 21:1-4 Jesus corrected his disciples’ cultural perception of the rich who, in “putting their offerings into the treasury,” appeared to be giving more than the “poor widow” who only dropped in two copper coins. Jesus said that in the eyes of God “this poor widow has put in more than all the rest.” Obviously, since God can count as well as anybody, he has a different standard of measurement than ours.
For God, the “more” is not measured by what is given, but by how much of ourselves we give in making the gift. The rich made “contributions out of their surplus,” gifts that didn’t affect them, remote from their well-being. The widow gave “every penny she had to live on.” She put her life on the line.
This is how God sees the baptized, and how we need to understand our Baptism. It isn’t just a matter of having water poured on us to “wash away” sins. In itself, that gesture does not speak of a very profound interior change. The real mystery of Baptism is expressed better in the Church’s preferred gesture: complete immersion in the water as a sign of going down into the grave—dying with and in Jesus on the cross and rising again “in him” to live henceforth as a “new creation,” his risen body on earth. That makes it clear that at Baptism we give our whole selves. All that we are and possess.
We give life for Life, human life for divine life. This is the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” that we celebrate.2
1 Confessions of St. Augustine (Lib. 7, 10, 18, 10, 27), used in the Office of Readings for the Feast of Saint Augustine on August 28th.
2 Matthew 13:44-46; 16:24-27; 19:21; Luke 9:57-62.
Initiative: Be Christ. Live the divine life of God in every human act.