Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Homily – Baptism of the Lord Year A January 9, 2005

Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7 Acts 10:34-38 Matthew 3: 13-17

“Why was Jesus baptized?”
That question was posed to me some time ago.
I didn’t have a quick answer; I had to do a little research.
That question is now the beginning of a homily I have used
at many of the baptisms at which I have presided.
Some families have heard that homily more than once.
I have tweaked it but not changed the basic material.
I keep coming back to this same beginning,
because it is an effective way
to get to the heart of the matter about baptism.
Today’s homily will not be that homily,
But we will begin with the same question:
“Why was Jesus baptized?”


I see three aspects of Jesus’ baptism:
1. This is the time when Jesus is publicly proclaimed as the One,
the beloved Son of the Father.
2. Jesus begins his public ministry at this point.
3. This is the point at which the Holy Spirit comes upon Jesus
to empower him for his ministry.
So in answer to the question, “Why was Jesus baptized?”
one might answer, “So that these three things could happen.”:
so that Jesus could be clearly identified as the Son of God,
so that the beginning of his ministry could be marked,
and so that the power of the Holy Spirit,
the third person of the Trinity, could be revealed.
Let’s look a bit deeper at each of these three.

1. First, Jesus is indeed the beloved Son of the Father,
but how do we understand the Father's declaration:
"This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."?
The Father "gives up" his most beloved Son
in order that he may gain us as his beloved sons and daughters.
The Father sent the Son
so that we might accept the forgiveness of the Father.
God is now well pleased that there is a way to heal the chasm
we have created by our attempts to make ourselves gods.
It pleases God that now there is a way to bring you and me
to become God’s sons and daughters,
with whom God is ALSO well pleased.
It pleases God that now there is a way for healing, restoring,
and transforming the lives of those
with foolish minds and fickle hearts.

2. Jesus’ baptism is indeed the beginning of his public ministry,
a ministry not of his own making,
but one he received from the Father.
Jesus responds to the call to save us on his Father's terms,
not on his own terms.
The Son of God comes to us out of love for us,
but also out of love for his Father.
If his ministry was of his own design,
Jesus could have opted to avoid Calvary.
Because he was dedicated to doing the will of his Father,
he drank from the cup his Father did not take away.
This was the character of the ministry that began
with Jesus’ baptism.

3. The Holy Spirit indeed empowers Jesus for ministry.
The Holy Spirit is often seen as the silent partner of the Trinity.
We often think that the Father sends, Jesus saves,
and, oh yes, the Holy Spirit is there too.
But the Holy Spirit is not a silent partner
who lets the Father and the Son act.
The Holy Spirit is the silent worker.


What do these three aspects of Jesus’ baptism mean for us?
How might they answer the question, “Why were we baptized?”

1. The declaration of the Father’s love for Jesus, “my beloved Son,”
is also a declaration of the Father's special love for us.
It is a love that we first experience at our Baptism.
Does this mean that God does not love the unbaptized? NO!
It just means that we are loved in a special way
as sons and daughters are loved by a forgiving parent.
We may be of the mind set that we obey God,
because we fear divine punishment.
We may come to church on Sunday
only out of fear of the pain of mortal sin.
We may remain chaste because we don’t want God to punish us.
We may drive carefully because we fear God and the police.
May our baptism be a reminder that,
instead of focusing on the punishment,
we are meant to revel in the love of God.

As children of God, we gather for Mass to love God
and the others in our community.
As children of God, we avoid sexual immorality,
because promiscuity truly shows our lack of love
for our God-given bodies and those of others.
An children of God, we drive carefully because our love for life,
our own and that of others, is God-like.
Acts performed out of love have about them a dignity
that acts performed out of fear do not.

2. Jesus’ ministry, which began with his Baptism,
is the model for our service as his sons and daughters.
The example that Jesus sets is one
that we all probably need to take to heart.
How often do we live our lives in such a way
that we try very hard to make the will of God fit
into our plans for life
instead of trying to determine
how our lives are to conform to the will of God?
How often are we resentful
because life (or God) has not dealt us the hand we want,
instead of asking what God wants us to do
with the hand we have been dealt?
We may wonder:
It would be so much better, if I had a higher paying job.
Why must I deal with a child with a behavioral problem?
What would it be like to live in a better neighborhood?

Jesus, who is the Son of God, was also the faithful servant,
the servant who prayed that not his will,
but rather his Father's will be done.
As sons and daughters of God,
we, in our ministry, in our service to the Father,
must do the same.
We must seek to know how God wants to use us in our jobs,
in our families and in our neighborhoods.

3. And where has the Holy Spirit descended into our lives?
Rarely is the Spirit overtly manifest to us,
yet the results of his work are splashed throughout our lives.
The Spirit is at work
when understanding puts an end to strife,
when vengeance gives way to forgiveness,
when those who were estranged join hands in friendship,
and when the work of justice and righteousness is performed.
When it seems we are doing quite well on our own,
we need to remember
that the Spirit is silently at work through us;
when it appears that God is not around,
we need to remember the Spirit is silently at work.


After an infant has been baptized with water,
the presider says to the newly baptized,
“The God of power and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
has freed you from sin and brought you to new life
by water and the Holy Spirit.
He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation so that,
united with his people,
you may remain for ever a member of Christ,
who is Priest, Prophet and King.”

As sons and daughters of God, we share in the divine life,
the life of Christ, the ministry of Christ,
the ministry that includes, priest, prophet and king.
We share as priest, one who makes holy
as prophet, one who teaches
as king, one who governs, who organizes, who serves.
So, why were we baptized?
We were baptized to share, with all other Christians,
in Christ in these three ways.
But we can do it only
if we know that no matter how badly we fail,
forgiveness is there for us;
we can do it only
if we emulate Christ in subordinating our will to God’s will;
and we can do it only
if we allow the Holy Spirit to be at work within us.

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