A Humble and Contrite Heart

Juan de Flandes - Christ and the Canaanite Woman c. 1500

 A Humble and Contrite Heart
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, August 14, 2011.
[Is 56:1, 6–7.  Ps 67:2–3, 5, 6, 8.  Rom 11:13–15, 29–32. Mt 15:21–28.]

We hear in today’s Gospel the story of the Canaanite woman, and with it, some of the most difficult and challenging and coldest words attributed to Jesus.  
And yet in these few verses a great story unfolds: It is a story of who is “in” and who is “out.”
It is a story that needs the clarification of Jesus’ divine mission; his need as a real person in history to work within the confines of the culture;
and it is a story of the offer of salvation to all people. 
Today’s first reading from the Prophet Isaiah tells us to expect this:
“The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord…  them I will bring to my holy mountain… for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
The Psalm speaks of this:
So may your way be known upon earth;
among all nations, your salvation.”
Saint Paul speaks of this:  “I am speaking to you Gentiles” he says; “God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.” 
And yet here in Matthew’s Gospel we hear of an encounter between a woman and Jesus, and we hear that Jesus “did not say a word in answer to her.”   
We hear that he ministers only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Here in Matthew’s Gospel, we encounter a woman who is definitely and outsider:  one of the “outs” - twice removed.  She is a woman in a man’s world. Women in those days in general did not have the social status of men.  And this woman is also “out” in that she is not of the house of  Israel.  She’s a foreigner. 

Indeed, she is not of Israel according to history.
And Matthew’s account of this dialogue (unlike the account in Mark’s Gospel Mk 7:24–29) is almost brutal. 
Matthew identifies this woman as a Canaanite:  and this brings back images of the ancient curse of the tribes descended from Ham, the son of Noah. 
So the woman is not only an outsider, but from a group held to be accursed.  A group particularly contrary and odious to the Jews. 
But I can’t help thinking that when this woman set out from her own place—her own little house;  Jesus was also setting out from Gennesaret to go toward this district. 
Why is Jesus going forward out of Israel to the land of the Gentiles, and why is this outsider woman coming toward Israel?  It is as if opposites are moving toward each other. 
What motivates each of them to move toward the other?    
Is it fate, or “kismet,” or written in the stars? No, we don’t believe that…
It’s God’s divine plan.  It is the will of God. 
Jesus moves to keep a "divine appointment."  In a word, it is “faith” that motivates this encounter.  

Fresh from his encounter with the Pharisees and their challenges, Jesus comes in his way, and the woman comes in her way, to another challenge. 
Jesus had just told the Pharisees moments before leaving for this journey, that they “honor [him] with their lips, but their hearts are far from him.” 
He also told his disciples, “the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart.”  There, he was referring to words that defile a person. 
And yet, what are the very next words the Gospel reports that come out from a mouth and into the ears of Jesus?  
“Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David.”  
Words of love, words dripping with the sincere plea for mercy, for healing, for wholeness.  Words from the mouth of an outsider.   

But they are words  from the mouth of a woman who so loves her daughter so much that she has literally identified with her. 
          “Have pity on me," she says.  
If you have pity on me, you will heal my daughter.  This will be the result of your healing pity on me.  
That’s what the woman says. 
She comes motivated by the great good of love:  love seeks the good of the other and love bears with the other. 
You might say that this love has made her “triply” an outsider – because the world tells us to take care of ourselves and let others worry about themselves.
So in the few words of the Gospel we learn a lot about this woman: how despite her outsider status, her “other” and separate status, she has great humility and great trust.  She reaches out over the no-man’s land of racism and sexism for totally pure motives. 
And Jesus response?  Silence.  Deafening silence to our ears. 

In fact, his first words come in reply not to the woman but to the disciples, who want to send her away. 
She is bothersome, she might cause a scandal, she is disruptive, she calls out. 
And Jesus’ statement of his mission is not to her, it is to the disciples:  he is, “sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 
Exclusive.  Selective.  What did that say to the heart of that woman…
And they talk about among themselves, as if she weren’t even there!
And then this woman who is still not recognized has the humility and the perseverance to come closer and do him homage.  Jesus’ reply to that might seem to be one of the coldest in the Gospels:
It is not right to take the food of the children
and throw it to the dogs.” 
And even this doesn’t deter the woman.  She says:

          “please, Lord, because even the dogs  eat the scraps from the table.”
She is desperate, but not without faith.  She’s a woman who doesn’t give up.  If lack of faith were an issue, she would have been gone at the outset.
But she is motivated by love: love that bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things, as Saint Paul teaches us.  The love that makes her humble even to the point of being humiliated for the good of her daughter. 
Sound familiar? Humble to the point of being humiliated? 
Take a look at the cross:  naked, beaten, cursed at, spat upon, and hanged from a tree.  Humiliated for the sake of the love of all people….
So this woman’s love must have been a mirror of Jesus' own love…
In the face of that love, Jesus replies and upholds her faith.  He cures her daughter. 
But it is not the cure that should interest us.  It is the dialogue. 
It is the persistence of this woman, this Gentile…  
     The only other time in Matthew’s Gospel where we really look at a Gentile encounter in any detail is back in chapter 8, where a Centurion comes asking for a healing for his servant.  And the Centurion says:
“Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.  Just say the word.” 

We’ll say that in our own way just before Communion today: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you… only say the word….”

Both the Centurion and the Canaanite woman are Gentiles. 
          Both come to Jesus.  He doesn’t come to them.
          Both ask not for themselves but for another. 
          Both demonstrate great faith. 
          Both cures are effected by Jesus from a distance—and that certainly shows his lordship over time and place. 

These two great stories of healing reach out over time, over the cultural confines that – especially in today’s reading – prevented Jesus in his historical realness on earth… from dealing directly with the woman at first. 
These stories teach us humility, they show us that we have to seek and ask and do homage and persevere.  They are stories about prayer.
But it is not because God likes to see us grovel. 
It is because we have to show ourselves the experience of a true heart, of clear intention, of trust only in God. 
That is the lesson of today’s Gospel, my friends. 

After the priest offers the gifts to God at the altar, he prays almost under his breath, “Lord we ask you to accept and bless these gifts that we offer with humble and contrite hearts.” 

David tells us in Psalm 51: “A humble and contrite heart, Lord, you will not spurn.” 
Whether it is David’s heart, or the Centurion’s heart, or the heart of this Canaanite woman. 

And so because of her great faith and pure heart, this Canaanite woman moves from being an “outsider” to being an “insider”: she becomes a spiritual daughter of the first rank—made so by her faith.   
We, too, are outsiders, and we need to know how to long and yearn and journey from our own safe places to call out for God’s mercy and be heard. 
We need to know, like the Canaanite woman that we have no bargaining power, we have only the force of love which goes beyond the norms – that kind of love calls to Jesus because it reflects and echoes the very love of god. 
Because for Jesus, the lost sheep of the house of Israel has become all of us who hear the call to be gathered together into the peace, and the joy, and the love that will break down all barriers and help us all to enter into the kingdom of God. 

What the blind man saw

What the blind man saw
Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year A, April 3, 2011
 [1Sm 16:1b, 6–7, 10–13a. Ps 23:1–3a, 3b–4, 5, 6. Eph 5:8–14. Jn 9:1–41.]

El Greco - Jesus Heals the Blind Man
When I reflect on this Gospel, a question that continually comes to me is: What – and exactly –how much – did the blind man see?

We all have moments of sight that transcend mere physical sight.  We have experiences where we often use our other senses to help us describe and understand things.

Mostly, we do this in metaphorical terms. We say things like: “I have a brown taste in my mouth,” or “that’s a loud shirt.” We use terms from one sense to help us identify something else.

There are people – often writers, artists, and musicians – who literally have a linking of two senses, so that their perception – their “sight,” if you will, is literally enhanced by color or texture. People as diverse as: Leonard Bernstein (stine), Duke Ellington, Billy Joel, Franz Liszt, and Tori Amos have this ability. This is called synesthesia.

And yet most of the time we don’t see the whole of the reality that we encounter.

Some rare times we can focus in to pinpoint attention.  People call that being in the zone…
And though that can be a richly creative time, it also has the potential to add to our darkness. We begin to become blind to God who sees us first and longs to be with and in us at that very moment.

I mention all of this because I think that the man born blind in today’s Gospel had to have received sight in more than one way.

The blind man is actually first seen by Jesus. The Gospel tell us: “As Jesus passed by he saw a man blind from birth.”

It is God who takes the initiative here, Jesus who makes him whole.

But the cure doesn’t happen instantly as it does in so many other cure accounts.  Instead Jesus makes clay. He rubs it on the man’s eyes, and he tells the man to go and wash in the pool of Siloam.

So the blind man, we can safely say, also acts to effect his cure. He obeys Jesus, who sends him to a pool whose very name – Siloam – means “sent.”

So, Jesus, who is himself sent from God, now sends this man to a pool named sent.

And the man begins to see.

And we begin to see some links: In last week's Gospel, Jesus said to the woman at the well: “If you knew the gift of God… I would have given you living water…”

For this blind man, that pool of Siloam is living water!

I think that is really important for us to see, because the blind man’s washing reminds us of the waters of our Baptism – the water that cleanses and welcome us into God’s community, so that we can see and encounter God. And in that sacramental action, it is always God who acts first, because he loves us first.

Now when those who had known the blind man now see him, they wonder if it is the same man.  Whatever it was that he saw, it must have changed him that much!

When thay ask, he responds to them: “I am.” What is so great about that is that he begins to speak as if a spark of the divine were set on fire within him.

He uses the same phrase for himself that God did when He told Moses His name from the burning bush!
When Moses asks “What is your name?” God answers, “tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you." … This is my name forever” (Ex 3:15).

So what did the blind man first see? 

Jesus has said: “I am the light of the world.” By the light of the world, this man now sees.

Now here is what I think the blind man saw: The great spiritual guide Thomas Merton puts it this way:

          "At the center of our being is a point… which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point
           of pure truth… which belongs entirely to God…. It is, so to speak, His name written in us... as
           our son-ship, it is like a pure diamond blazing with the invisible light of heaven."

Isn’t that beautiful? Written in us, marked indelibly in us… God’s very name “I am.” Is in us! Communion with God.

Now we begin to see just how rich the blind man’s new sight really is!

As water reflects images, he probably saw his own image and he saw that spark of the divine – that diamond blazing with the invisible light of heaven and calling him to discipleship.

The blind man now comes back... the newly-sighted man makes a journey of faith in the way that he tells people about Jesus.
First he says: The man called Jesus helped him to see.
Next he says that Jesus is a prophet.

And when the Pharisees call him a second time, he is bold enough to make a statement: he doesn’t know how he was cured, but he gives us a beautiful statement of faith, one that has echoed down to us across the centuries:

          “One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.”

So now, Jesus himself seeks out the cured man who has been thrown out of the Temple by the Pharisees: their own blindness prevents them from seeing his truth. And Jesus helps the man to have full and complete sight.

Jesus says, Do you know who I am? I am the Son of Man.

And the response is one of pure faith: “I do believe, Lord,” and he worships him.”

Not in the Temple, not on mountain tops, but right there in the present moment of the encounter of God.

The abundant sight that Jesus gives the man is the light of faith – a light that can surely set the world ablaze with God’s love.

That gift to the blind man is a gift that God holds out to all of us: I think that this kind of sight helps us to understand some of the things that we profess but that we cannot see: things like love, charity, trust, hope…

The eyes of our hearts see these things!

Thomas Merton himself received that gift of abundant sight for a few moments.  He described it as an epiphany – a God-with-us moment. Here is how he describes it in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystalder:

"In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district,
I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization
that I loved all those people,
that they were mine and I theirs,
that we could not be alien to one another
even though we were total strangers. …
there is no way of telling people
that they are all walking around shining like the sun.
I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts,
the depths of their hearts …
the person that each one is in God's eyes.
If only they could all see themselves as they really are.
If only we could see each other that way all of the time.
There would be no more war, no more hatred,
no more cruelty, no more greed…"

Merton received a new and more abundant sight for just those few minutes, and it changed his life forever.

And I think that kind of seeing is the kind of sight that the blind man received.

I think that is a sight that is possible for us all to see, not every day, not all the time.
But it is a glimpse, abundant sight from new eyes of faith.

Sight that we hope will enable and empower us all to say,

             I, too was blind, Lord, but now I see…

Jesus Alone

Jesus Alone
Second Sunday of Lent, Year A, March 20, 2011. 
[Gen 12:1–4a. Ps 33:4–5, 18–19, 20, 22. 2Tm 1:8b–10. Mt 17:1–9.]

A priest friend of mine told me a story a few years ago about one particular instance of the Kingdom of heaven breaking forth and people being transfigured in just a moment in the everyday stuff of life.

He was coming back to the rectory from the drugstore across the street, dressed in a sport shirt and khakis - his civilian clothes, I guess you would say.

And as he began to step off the curb to cross the street,
a car came careening around the corner at breakneck speed…

And he jumped back on the curb.

And don’t you know, the driver of that car screeched to a halt, realized that there was somebody who had taken a step to cross the street, and he stopped, and smiled, and waved him across.

For that priest, it was a “mountain moment”: it was the children of God recognizing each other and upholding and affirming each other’s dignity!

Later on he told me, “The Kingdom of God’s justice, love, and peace broke through in that moment!”

I kind of laughed at the time, but I’m not laughing now…

Because I have learned to see some of those “mountain moments” in life. And I’ve learned that God’s kingdom of justice, love, and peace does actually break through!

The question for us today, as we listen to this account of the Transfiguration is – when that kingdom comes, when the moment breaks through for us…  will we recognize it?

On this Second Sunday of Lent we jump from near the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry – last week we heard about his temptation in the desert – and now we hear about the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor.

But it is good to see the story here, just the week after the Temptation story. Last week, Jesus was kind of “taken away” and tempted in three ways that actually sum up all of our human wants and needs:
any person’s needs: food – bread in unlimited quantities…just change the stones into bread. And the power of life and death… throw yourself down and angels will save you.  And power – worldly power… Satan offered all the kingdoms of the world.

That Gospel and Today’s Gospel are both about identity: Last week, the evil ome was paying around with Jesus’ identity. And because Jesus does know who he is, He didn’t give in to Satan.

And now, Jesus takes these three disciples, Peter James and John – the first three he called, and certainly three who we might figure would best benefit from this experience.

Just before this event, we hear Jesus asking the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”

Peter calls Jesus the Messiah, the holy one, the anointed one of God… and then Peter tries to prevent Jesus from undergoing his passion.

One well-respected commentator sees Peter as actually attempting to “possess” Jesus, to physically take Him aside and to have Jesus conform to Peter’s concept of Jesus’s identity!

The word for this in the original Greek is: πϱοσλαβόμενος  proslambano.  

But in Peter’s case we can understand this as a kind of love that is well-meaning and yet imperfect and uninformed.

And now, six days later, Jesus proslambanos them – Jesus takes these three disciples aside to himself and brings them up the mountain.

And that leads us to think about who has possession of us at any given time: Does the world possess us? Does Satan possess us, or do we allow ourselves to be possessed – to be proslambanoed by Jesus?

Jesus takes them up the mountain – to a preview of heaven!

Many people call this mountain the “middle mountain” the one between the mount where Jesus preached the Beatitudes and the mount Golgotha, the place of the skull – the place of his death.

When the disciples see the glory of the transfiguration, they hardly know what to do, and they’re afraid! But Peter again musters up a little courage and offers to build three tents on the mountain.
He wants to stay!

But you know and I know that we don’t stay in mountain places and situations like this Transfiguration for very long.

We have these peak experiences and we move on and down… down to the million mundane little details of everyday lives.

To the trivia and the little stuff that tends to bog us down and call us back to be possessed, to be proslambanoed if you will, by the things and the cares of this world.

But that’s not totally bad, because it is in the world that we were created, and it is in the world that we are redeemed.

It is in the world that God calls us to greatness as His sons and daughters. So we should not run from the world – it is where we live and move and have our being at present.  But it’s a far cry from heaven.

Even the disciples who see the glory of the Lord in this way; they’re scarcely able to tell us what they see.
They use the words like and as: Jesus face shone “like” the sun… his clothes white “as” light…
This gives us an idea, but it is not really adequate.

They had no words and no comparable experiences to tell us directly about this glory!
It was literally too great to describe.

And do they understand? NO.

When Jesus comes to His passion, Peter betrays Jesus three times.
James and John?: They ask for seats on the right and the left of Jesus!
They have no idea, no clue…

And if it doesn’t quite fit in with the mundane nature of the rest of human experience, we can understand.
The transfiguration is the “exception” to the rule.
It is a moment in time that is “out of time.”

It is a breaking forth of the kingdom of justice love and peace that really is already and not yet… it is a preview, a glimpse at a glory insofar as we can behold it, of what it is like to be in heaven for us in this fallen world.

It would take a lot of time for these three to realize what had happened to them on that mountain.

That’s probably why Jesus told them to tell the vision to no one until after He had been resurrected…
Until they had the full story of the Jesus who had overcome the world.

And it is important to note that in the fear that followed the voice of the Father…

It is Jesus Himself who goes over and bends down to them.

It is Jesus himself who touches them and bids them to rise… to rise up and accept their dignity. Jesus Himself who tells them, “Rise and do not be afraid.”

The Gospel tells us that when they looked up, they saw “no one else but Jesus alone”

I think that is the great challenge, the great lesson of the Transfiguration: We have to realize that in all of our lowliness, in all of the “dust” that we are.. dust that we recalled when we accepted ashes on Ash Wednesday…

that Jesus reaches out and down to us, to touch us, to free us from fear and to empower us… as we heard in our second reading, to “bear our hardships for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.”

If we accept the message of the Gospel, the commandment to love not as we love, but as Jesus himself loves…
Then we, too, will be the beneficiaries of the Transfiguration.

We too, will rise and see in everyone and everything around us:

No one… but Jesus alone.

Lives entwined

Sankt Matthaeus Kirke, Copenhagen, Altarpiece - detail by Henrik Olrik

Lives Entwined
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A; World Marriage Day
[Sir 15:15–20.  Ps 119:1–2, 4–5, 17–18, 33–34 . 1 Cor 2:6-10.  Mt 5: 5:20–22a, 27–28, 33–34a, 37.]

The Gospel that we hear today is a continuation of Jesus’ great “Sermon on the Mount,” that started with him turning the world upside down, by reaching down to bless and empower and uphold the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers…

In the "long form" of today’ Gospel we hear Jesus expounding on the Law – but not to abolish it. He tells the crowd,

     “until heaven and earth pass away,
     not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
     will pass from the law,”

Instead, he tells a people called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world
how to live the law that was given to Moses.
This is the great “teaching with authority” that awed and astonished the people
and irked the Scribes and Pharisees.

Jesus calls us to vocation here – he calls us to live in a specific and loving way that upholds the sacredness of everyone – because we are all sons and daughters of God.

I think this is a really great Gospel to hear especially today, because today we celebrate
World Marriage Day!

But whenever we honor the sacrament of marriage together as a faith community, there is always a possibility that someone will feel left out, or hurt at that.

It might be someone in the single state, or someone whose marriage, sadly, failed for one or another reason.

It might be a surviving spouse who wonders where his or her marriage went when the beloved marriage partner died.

But I hope that for today, all can share in joy, because,

Today, I am speaking to all of you about a particular group of you who are married - Today, February 13, 2011. 

Marriage in the Catholic Church is no mere arrangement of convenience, but a covenant of life and love that is true Sacrament.

God has blessed this from time immemorial.

Genesis tells us that God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.”

And when the man and woman see each other for the first time, they recognize something in each other that they see in no other part of creation:

     “At last: bone of my bones
       and flesh of my flesh!" 

They see that they were literally “made for each other!”

They recognize that they are not alone – it is a recognition that God is there.

God is entwining their two lives.

That is God’s original plan, His original intent: That the man and woman see in each other something so sacred that the only response can be pure and true love.

And the man and woman make the decision to be with and for each other in a way by which they will complete each other!

They will serve each other in a free, total, faithful, and fruitful union that makes them one body:

that unites them in ways far beyond the physical; a unity that makes each of them “complete” in an abundant love.

My dear friends – that is true vocation! It is the primordial vocation – not a job, or a profession, but a radical way to live the whole of life!

Marriage is a sign of Christ’s abiding presence. And because it is a sacrament, it gives spouses graces to love each other exclusively and permanently.

So, why do some marriages fail today?

Marriage as it is lived out is really countercultural.

It resists the individualism of the world, it resists the call of a civilization that tells us “take care of yourself first!”
There is a constant tension between what the world tells us and what we hear from God.

Yet marriage tells the partners just the opposite: to take care of each other.

To go the whole distance:
     To love and honor, to be faithful and true in good times and bad, for richer or poorer, in sickness   
     and health, all the days the hours, the minutes, the seconds of life.
No exceptions, no turning back!

And when marriage is done right – when two people love and encourage and empower each other in love, great things happen!

Pope Benedict has said,
     “The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”

Today, Jesus tells us the same thing, because in his beautiful discourse, He, too, upholds the greatness that God intends for everyone!

But we are not made great by the trophies of the world, not by fame and fortune.  But by lives well lived.
Lives that literally salt the earth and light the world… lives that speak elegantly and fruitfully to all the world.

Jesus tells us all by the witness of successful marriages:

       Come with me in this union and I will give you a glimpse of paradise!

And you find this – even in the ordinary day-to-day living out of those powerful promises of love.

You know it at the end of the day, when you are with the one person who completes your life.
You glimpse the love that Paul writes about:

     What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,
      and what has not entered the human heart,
      what God has prepared for those who love him,

That is what Christian marriages show the world!  I can look around this beautiful church and see that myself.  I know so many of you here today whose marriages of some twenty, fourty, and even sixty years speak volumes of pure and total love and commitment.  I see couples here whose love for each other literally brightens this church today! 
And this is what we celebrate today: this sacred bond that points us to the reality of God’s eternal love for us all!

God has destined us all for greatness. God has called us all for the Victory of Justice.

By following the new law of love.  

But today especially we celebrate you among us who are married: we celebrate what God has done for you, and we share in celebration with you
of what your sign of love has done

to shower a bland world shrouded in darkness
with the salt and the light of love.

Called for the Victory of Justice

Albani: The Baptism of Christ
Called for the Victory of Justice
The Baptism of the Lord, Sunday Year A, January 9, 2011
[Is 42:1–4, 6–7.   Ps 29:1–2, 3–4, 3, 9–10. Acts 10:34–38.  Mt 3:13–17.]

We hear today what God whispers as Jesus emerges from the waters of baptism .

Moms and dads, grandmas and granddads: What do you whisper into the ears of your children? It may be that their very lives depend on your message.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus hears words of love from His Father: Jesus is the “beloved son” who pleases His Father.

With this event we have fast-forwarded from the infant Jesus to the mature Jesus of  Nazareth who enters the world scene to begin a wondrous ministry of salvation - a mission of victory.

And we heard in the beautiful first reading from Isaiah today, the first of what we call the “Servant of the Lord Oracles.”

Certainly this was familiar to Jesus. As a pious Jew, He had probably heard this many times.

He probably prayed and meditated on those words and found in them the very essence of His divine vocation.

And then word gets to Nazareth and to Jesus that His cousin John is preaching repentance and conducting ritual washings in the Jordan.  Jesus must have known in that moment that the “fullness of time” had come for Him to bring “justice to the nations.”

Jesus must have known that He is called and grasped by the hand for the very “triumph of justice.” To bring out all those who live in darkness!

And so He sets out from Nazareth some 65 miles away to seek out John at the Jordan.

And certainly John knew just who Jesus was, because he protested that he was not worthy to baptize Jesus.

Jesus replied: “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

For us – Jesus says: for Himself and for John.

That is an important few words: Here the identities are clear: Jesus and John in particular are “to fulfill all righteousness” in specific and particular ways and according to God’s mission for them.

So today at the Jordan we encounter God who overturns all the expectations of the Prophet.

Today, Jesus who is God submits to the ministry of man.

Today, the Sinless One identifies Himself with his creatures – with men and women who through Adam’s sin have fallen.

Today, Jesus becomes one with His people.

Jesus becomes the leader – He Himself becomes the perfecting covenant for Israel and for all people!

Jesus submits to baptism at the hands of the man who is His herald – the voice in the wilderness who points to Him as Messiah.

We have to remember that John’s baptism is for repentance and the forgiveness of sin.

In Matthew’s Gospel, just two verses prior to where today’s reading begins, John tells us: “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire” (3:11)

Jesus' baptism points us forward to the Sacramental Baptism that you and I have received at the hands of deacons or priests: our own being “born again of water and the spirit.”

A gift and share in God’s divine life given by God – who always takes the initiative – through the hands of His ministers.

And with new life and new creation through Baptism we too, become beloved sons and daughters of God. With all the rights – and all the responsibilities – that this entails.

I love to think about Jesus' baptism and the events that followed immediately after it.  Think about it: it is a great Theophany – a tremendous manifestation of God:

The heavens are opened!
The Spirit descends in the form of a dove.
And the voice of God is heard!

And that beautiful message – the message that points out the beloved son!

Today, the norm for Baptism is that we baptize infants. Sometimes we hear an objection from parents that a child shouldn’t be baptized, that it should grow up free to determine for him- or herself whether or not to be a Christian.

And as well-meaning as that might be, it is deceptively superficial. It assumes that the child will grow up in some kind of a space where he will not be influenced one way or another by others. To put it bluntly, there is no such thing as neutral space.

Think about this: No child can be asked if he wants life of not.

Life itself is a gift from his parents and the creative action of God.

And just as parents have brought forth the child to life as its representatives, so to speak, parents must continue to represent the child by care and food, clothing, love, education.

No child can make decisions about those things.

His parents represent him!

This is what we call the phenomenon of representation.

And if the parents truly love the child, can they withhold from him the grace to help him make decisions about right and wrong, good and evil, true and false,
the way of God…and the way of the world?

The answer is, quite simply, no. These things cannot be withheld from the child.

It would be like holding out the child to drown in a sea of all the possible interpretations of the world and those who live and act in it, with no way to discern—with no moral compass and no rudder by which to steer their ship of life.

For us, Baptism is the entry onto the Christian way of life.

And believing parents cannot withhold baptism any more than they can withhold food.

All children are God’s creation. Yes, it is a creation entrusted to parents, but it is not their creation.

The right and responsibility of parents is to make their children not in their own image,
but in the image of God!

Point to a crucifix and ask anyone if they would want to go through that kind of torture to gain eternal life.
Very quickly, they will answer you that Jesus has done that for us!

Exactly! Jesus gives us the very model for the phenomenon of representation!

Recently I heard a young woman speak with such great eloquence about her faith.

At one point, she stopped and smiled, and then she said: “I’m God’s girl. You don’t mess with God’s girl. I’ve got a sign on my forehead that says: ‘You better be nice to me because my father runs the world’. ”

Yes, our Father runs the world. And, if we identify ourselves as God’s children, we have to walk with Jesus in the way that He points out!

We are members of a family who are loved because God has loved us first – loved us even before we were formed in the womb – God loved us when we were just the very idea of God.

And as members of the family, it is important for us to know that our first vocation is to show ourselves as beloved sons and daughters.

If we live out our Baptism, then we are to live and move and have our being so that we are cooperators and coworkers in the mission to bring forth the Kingdom of God in our very midst!

Baptism is an invitation to us to share in the divine life…

A mandate for us, too, to fulfill all righteousness.

It is a mandate we need to take seriously, because it is really not so much about what particular job we do in life, but about how we do it.

And no matter what it is that we choose to do in life, We are called first to the vocation of family.

Mothers and Fathers: you are called and reminded in the rite of Baptism to be the first and best of teachers of your children, “bearing witness to the faith” by what you say and do.

And children: you are called to bring forth your Christian dignity unstained and “to walk always as children of the light.”

We hear in today’s Gospel the very voice of God who speaks to and of Jesus as the beloved son.

That voice is for us to hear, to understand, to treasure, and to act on.

The late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus put it like this:
     "We are called to be heroes and heroines in persevering
      in the exciting adventure, the high adventure
      of being in the pilgrim people
      who lead the entire cosmos toward the promised land."

It is a journey that calls us to greatness.

God himself tells us today, “I the Lord have called you for the victory of justice; I have grasped you by the hand…

God's call to victory all begins at home.

Mothers, fathers, it begins with the love, the encouragement, the confidence, the empowerment that you whisper into the ears of your children.

It begins with your willingness to be a member of the pilgrim church that groans, and reaches, and yearns for God.

Jesus who is God in the flesh receives love and encouragement today from the Father in heaven. Jesus, who actually blesses the waters by his immersion.

Jesus, who blesses the earth by his walking on it.
Jesus who even blesses the air by his breathing of it.
Jesus, who makes all things new invites us today to hear the voice, and to recognize and follow Him.

My friends, we are called for the victory of justice – our very lives depend on it!