|Albani: The Baptism of Christ|
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!