Taking Risks

Fr Alec ReidFather Alec Reid was a voice for peace in a time when it was best to keep your mouth shut.  During the fighting between the Catholic Irish Republican Army of Northern Ireland and the Protestant British Forces, Father Reid worked going back between the parties and trying to bring peace in a conflict that would claim over 3500 lives.  It would have been much safer if he would have kept to himself and just stayed in the monastery that he lived in for 40 years, but he chose to risk his life for what he believed in.

One time, in fact, during a funeral for an IRA soldier in Northern Ireland, father Reid was walking by with documents that were being exchanged between Sinn Fein and the British government to broker a peace deal when two British undercover officers were discovered by IRA security people.  Although Father Reid pleaded for the IRA to stop, they dragged the officers from their car, stripped them, and beat them.  One of the security people pulled out a gun and Father Reid laid on the ground with the two men who were lying face down on the street and put his arms over them.  The IRA member said, “Get up, or I’ll f@#%ing shoot you as well.”  They grabbed Father Reid and pulled him away and then shot the two British officers.  Father Reid ran back to the men, turned them over, and tried to do CPR on them.  It was too late.  Father Reid got down on one knee, administered last rites, and then picked up his bloodied envelope to take back to the monastery and exchange it for a clean one.  Lucky for him he wasn’t killed, but he risked his life regardless of the possible danger to him so that humans would be able to live together at peace.

John the Baptist was a social prophet and revolutionary in a time and place when, again, it was much better to keep your mouth shut.  Anyone associated with him was marked by the Roman government and deemed an outcast by the temple Jews.  The Jews and the Roman government had a deal.  As long as the Jews behaved themselves and paid their taxes on time, the Romans would let them conducted their religious business.  As often happens under such a system, the Jewish leaders took extra liberties in exercising power and turned the purity system into a money-making, power grabbing exercise.

It was this system and denigration of his religion that John came to speak out against.  He called for people to repent – meaning to change their minds and ways – and go back to seeking righteousness for the sake of one another.  Needless to say, the Jewish authorities had a good thing going and didn’t appreciate John flapping his jaws.  Being associated with him was extremely dangerous.  To be baptized by John was akin to making a public announcement that you were joining the cause and joining the resistance.  In Judaism, baptism was a purification ritual that occurred when one committed to living a life of righteousness for the sake of oneself and those around you.

It was on to just such a scene that Jesus entered.  Jesus goes to John and says, “I’m in.  I’m joining this movement.”  John gave him an out.  He said that it should be Jesus that was baptizing John and not the other way around.  We often hear this as a theological statement, but we could also hear this as John saying, “You don’t have to do this.  I’m already a marked man but they’re not after you yet.”  Jesus knew what he was getting himself into and he insisted that John go through with the ritual.  And so he did.  It was then that it is said that a dove descended upon Jesus as a sign that God “was well pleased” that Jesus had made the decision to stand up for what was right, even if it meant that his life would be in danger.

If we were baptized, what were we baptized into?  A specific belief system?  I don’t think so.  I think our baptisms are supposed to be an outward and visible commitment to a new way of life rooted in that which is the essence of all being.  I think baptism is a commitment to the things that Jesus taught and lived by – namely, justice, freedom, love, and peace.  We were baptized into a revolution with risks.  How are we doing on that?  Are we sticking our proverbial necks out for someone in need or are we just playing it safe?  Just wondering.

2 Responses to “Taking Risks”

  1. John Lovestrand Says:

    On a related note, I too have often wondered… whether Jesus (and John, for that matter) would not face the same fate in our present day — unwelcome to even those who invoke his name and consider themselves (Christians) his followers. Would not his (John’s) teachings still be received as too radical; his expectations still perceived as too ideal; his compassion still considered too liberal. Father Alec Reid (like the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.) provides another in an inspirational line of testimonials to the contrary — modern testaments to humans willing to sacrifice their own lives for the betterment of all — all of whom restore my faith in humanity itself.

    • I agree with you 100%, John. I have for many years had this phrase in my head that humans always kill their messiahs. Ironically, if Jesus or John were alive today, it would likely be fundamentalist Christians that would kill them. Two hippies claiming to be close to God and preaching in God’s name that we need to accept everyone regardless of sexual orientation, race, etc.? Imagine the heresy! They would not last long at all in this day or any day. It’s a sad fact indeed.

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