Today's readings begin with Isaiah's report of God's message: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. Wouldn't it be nice if the message were a little different? Something more like this: do not fear, for I have made sure that nothing will go wrong. Or, do not fear, for I have made sure that nothing will hurt you and those you love. However, life offers none of these assurances. As we all know, things can go wrong, very wrong. On top of that, it can hurt, and hurt more than one ever dreamed possible. Somehow, we are not to be afraid of these things, not because they won't happened, but because they will be redeemed.
Redemption can mean a lot of things. One trivial example: green stamps. Green stamps, an early version of frequent flier miles, were stamps received during the grocery store checkout which could be redeemed for what were, at the time, small but somewhat extravagant gift items. Enough trips to the grocery store, giving the time and energy and money it took to go with three kids in tow, and she would not only have enough food to feed her family, she would have sufficient stamps for something special. Along the way, all of us learned many life lessons, about making choices, waiting in line, and other challenges of ordinary life which grow a person towards adulthood. Maybe, in addition to the green stamp gifts, these developing character traits in the family eventually redeemed the drudgery of those days.
The analogy between green stamps and the plenteous redemption of our faith won't stretch far. But in a sense, all redemption is like this. People spend time and energy at a task, and in the end, whether it is successful or not, in spite of the mistakes made along the way, and often building on those mistakes somehow, an unexpected bonus occurs. In today's gospel reading, Jesus, obediently following his growing sense of purpose by embracing baptism, finds that with it comes a surprising heavenly blessing, complete with a dove!
Anyone who is figuring out what she wants to do with her life, and is doing the best she can with it, can count on difficulties and pain, but also on redemption. And there is more good news, for somehow, when a person or group of people is dedicated to a purpose greater than self, they are less subject to fear. In focusing on purpose or task, a person can stop attending to fear and worry, while providing a place for redemption to abide.
To ponder: When have you seen something redeemed in your world?