On the mind of the Rev. Dr. Nathaniel Jung-Chul Lee

Jan 6, 2023

On Sunday, my son Malachi will be baptized at my “other” parish (St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery). Born three months before the pandemic, and after some transitions in our family, it has been a long time coming. I could not be more excited.

This Sunday is the feast day we call “The Baptism of Our Lord,” as it celebrates Jesus’ own baptism. The Gospel reading for this Sunday culminates in these words: “And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’”

Those words hit me differently as a dad.

I wonder what your relationship with your father was like. I personally had a good relationship with my father, and respect him more than almost anybody in the world. But even for those of us who had great relationships with their dad, something I’ve found in the course of my priesthood is that nearly all of us come through childhood with some kind of father wounds. Maybe it’s just the accidents of history or cultural particularity, but somewhere in the midst of our relationships with our fathers, for most of us, there’s some hurt or injury or pain. Many of us have fathers who struggled to show us love, in the same way their fathers struggled to show them love, and so forth down the line. As the old saying goes: “You can’t give what you haven’t receive.”

Here’s how John Steinbeck put it in East of Eden––an allegory of his own family history, which he dedicated to his own two sons:

The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears. I think everyone in the world to a large or small extent has felt this rejection. And with rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime in revenge for the rejection, and with the crime guilt––and there is the story of mankind.

Which is what makes those words in our Gospel reading for Sunday so amazing. I’ll tell you something that some of you may already know––at times, Malachi can be a terror. The kid has more energy than a cheetah hopped up on sugar. And since around his second birthday, he seems to have forgotten every word in the English language but one: “NO.” But I confess, even at those moments where his antics are exhausting or maddening or overwhelming, there’s a deeper feeling that colors over all of it, like a camera lens or filter:

“This my son. I love him. And all of this, at the last, brings me more joy than my heart can possibly contain.”

Now imagine this. Imagine a love infinitely more than you can ask for or imagine. Imagine a heavenly father, perfect in all of his ways, vast beyond the farthest reaches of our galaxy, yet nearer to you than your very breath. And imagine him saying to you:

You are my child. You are my beloved. In you, I am well pleased.

For all of us who have at times wondered if we have have failed to please our father’s, and worried about whether that might lead to the hell of rejection––or struggled to give what we haven’t received––hear the good news of this Sunday’s Gospel. All of us who have been baptized into Christ are adopted into household of God, and made heirs of God’s eternal promise. You are God’s beloved son. You are God’s beloved daughter. In you, God is well pleased.

Always. Perfectly. Forever.