Hygiene is a fairly recent phenomenon among humans. Some practiced it earlier than others. The Scandinavians were a lot cleaner than the British and it is recorded that the British inhabitants of York complained that young girls were more likely to date the recent Viking and Danish invaders than the local Brits. The reason was because the Vikings and Danes had a weekly bath and so smelled a lot sweeter than the Brits who did not bath at all.
In the Middle Ages, we got better and the custom was to bath once a year in the Spring when the weather began to get a bit warmer. The idea was to be clean for Easter — and a commendable theory it was.
A large tub was used and the man of the house bathed first in the clean water, then his wife, then any other women in the house and lastly the children with the smallest child last. The joke was that the water, by the time the smallest child was in it, was so black you could not tell if there was anyone in it or not, so there was a danger that you would throw out the baby with the bathwater.
The saying stuck and became to mean throwing away what was good with what we need to get rid of. The belief of many people that we should get rid of religion is a good case in point. The festivities of Easter to celebrate the rising of Christ got turned into a hat parade and put the Christian calendar on its head.
Somewhere deep in the murky waters of the religious experience, mixed up with the folk practices, is the real object of the exercise. We should be finding that small baby born before it gets thrown away with all the other trash we constantly evict from our lives. If we are smart enough to discover this child, the move could turn out to be a cultural and economic miracle that might alter more than half the world forever. It has already done that once, why not again?
The gospel writers encourage us to respond to God’s call for co-operation in the search. We might not be people who, in the normal course of events, can alter or change the way others think or behave and yet, if we cooperate with God more than we could ever image might result.
Christianity was not initially a movement of the elite in society, nor was it allied to the rich and powerful … that was to come later when the powerful wanted to use it for their own ends to stay in power.
Yet its initial appeal was to ordinary folk to reshape the society in which they found themselves. Most people, then and now, believe that the culture and society they live in is so strong that ordinary citizens cannot, on their own, change it.
This is why so many of Venezuela’s population look to individually powerful people to help them change society to their advantage.
It is a Medieval concept and a dangerous game to play and not the method that Jesus advocated. He never said, follow me and I will give you material wealth. He said follow me and let us put the world back into God’s ways and everyone will be better off, including the poor. In fact he went on to say that the materially rich of this world were likely to be the spiritually poor so there would be gain for all if each one of us were to take up the call to be citizens of the new kingdom.
Jesus lived at a time when few had a formal education, but a lack of education should not be confused with stupidity or an inability to reason or have good sense. The best sense was to turn to God and forge a new understanding with him. That had been the call of John the Baptist, and Jesus took it another step further on.
The gospel writers made it clear in the birth narratives when they described the first people to turn to God by seeking out the baby Jesus. Shepherds were generally thought of as ill-educated but not foolish, and they would not be lightly tempted to leave their valuable flocks unattended. The sheep represented their wealth … to leave them would be a huge risk … yet the writers suggest to us that the discovery of the child made even the hardened shepherds leave all behind in order to discover the king of kings.
That is a clear message to us that we should not hold the ways of earning our living so dear to us that we have no time to seek out the child of God. Seeking God out is to put our priorities in the right order.
There is no suggestion that we should give up our jobs, or that the shepherds did so … or that when they discovered the child, they had here a ready-made developed faith and plan for every day that followed.
Indeed just the opposite is claimed. The child is a baby not a reasoning adult. What we discover is the potential growth that we can have with God. When we bring children to baptism we look for the same potential for growth within the family of the church so that the child may develop the ways of God in a normal development program. The water here is clean and fresh and is meant to wash away the bad influences of the world so that we can take advantage of God’s pure ways. If we don’t take advantage of this offer we are throwing the baby out with the baptism water. Jesus takes this pure water of the baptism and turns it for understanding adults into the wine of God’s grace so that all who are thirsty for knowledge of God may drink and be satisfied.
It falls upon the mothers of this world to set the right direction of thought and practice. If there is a fall in Church attendance, then it will be because mothers have made it so.
It is time that we all take part in this act of discovering the child in the water, and know it is profound even if we don’t fully understand it and all the implications of it. In the same way a baby can know the love of its mother, and want it and respond to it, even though the child does not fully understand the deepest meanings of love and what a commitment that is.
What I am saying is: You don’t have to be a theologian to receive God’s grace through the Eucharist, the water turned into wine.
We are halfway through the season of Lent, a preparation for the Passion and Easter. Here we will find in the ordinary things of life of ordinary people the potential for a new life with the God of all creation.
If you are a mother or a carer in the family that every father should also be, you should know that in the birth of a new life lies the key to all our hopes and aspirations.
Leave whatever you are doing no matter how important it may seem to you now, because to search to find the child of God among all the filth that man has thrown into the bathtub, will open up for all of us a new sense of peace and tranquility, a new direction and justice for all.