When presiding at marriages, I sometimes look past the couple exchanging vows and glance at the community. I wonder what's going on in the minds of people who are already married as they hear the two say those words. I presume many are thinking, "If only you knew...!"
Those who have already taken and lived such vows know that when two people honestly give themselves to each other, no one can predict the future. Though every bride and groom have some projection of what "good times and bad" mean, they really won't know until they actually experience good times and bad. Their commitment to each other both opens doors they don't know exist and supplies them with the strength to go through those doors together.
It's always that way with commitments. We take a huge step into the unknown when we make them. Yet we continue to do so because we presume life will be more fulfilling with them than without them. That's also why people of faith commit themselves to God.
Into the unknown
Deutero-Isaiah's commitment to Yahweh is classic. Three of the four well-known Songs of the Suffering Servant are his personal reflections on what happens in his life when he steps into the unknown with his God.
The initial four verses of Sunday's first reading (Is 42: 1-4, 6-7) are the prophet's first reflection. He's already committed himself to Yahweh. In the interval, he's come to understand that God has certainly chosen him for prophetic ministry, but he's to be a prophet like none of his predecessors. He doesn't shout or cry out; he's concerned with building people up, not tearing them down.
But even more important than his prophetic style, Deutero-Isaiah has come to realize that Yahweh has called him to minister beyond his own Jewish community. "He shall bring justice to the nations (Gentiles)," Yahweh promises. "The coastlands (Gentiles) will wait for his teaching."
The prophet exercised his ministry to his fellow Jews in the midst of Gentiles during the Babylonian Exile. When he originally committed himself to Yahweh, he never thought he'd be delivering God's word to anyone but Jews. But now he realizes God is taking him far beyond the limits he projected when the relationship began.
Luke reminds us that Jesus' first followers experienced a similar breakup of limits (Acts 10: 34-38). After the practicing Jew Peter sees the Gentile household of Cornelius receive the Holy Spirit, he can only say, "In truth, I see God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears Him and acts uprightly is acceptable to Him."
Who could have thought that when Jesus' disciples committed themselves to Him, they were committing themselves to people and situations they thought they'd never experience?
Scholars of the historical Jesus suspect He used His baptism to proclaim His own decision to give Himself completely to God. The carpenter from Nazareth was never the same after John pushed Him under the Jordan's waters. There was now a commitment in his life which wasn't there before this event (Mt 3: 13-17).
Though for theological reasons, Matthew has John argue with Jesus about the propriety of such an action, the future impact of this event is clear: The heavens symbolically open and God's Spirit descends on Him.
Perhaps the unknown of Jesus' commitment to Yahweh are what made Him put off His baptism until he was around 30 years old. What did it take to give Himself to a God who was going to take Him beyond anything he could have imagined?
I presume that after Jesus' resurrection He wouldn't have wanted it any other way, just as the already married wouldn't want to go back on their commitment to one another -- even if they originally had no idea what it would entail.