The Shock of Jesus’ Baptism, Baptism of the Lord, January 9, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Mission of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Baptism of the Lord
January 9, 2017
Is 42:1-4.6-7, Ps 29, Mt 3:13-17

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in today’s homily: 

  • We are so familiar with the scene of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan that we can fail to experience the shock John had, a shock that can help us to appreciate far more deeply the mystery. Last week, in the preparation for the feast of the Lord’s baptism, we were having several passages about John and Baptism, passages that likewise we considered at the end of the first part of Advent as we considered John’s call for us to make straight the paths of the Lord.
  • The first thing to consider was what was happening at the Jordan. Everyone was going out to John in the desert in the Jordan. Even those from Jerusalem, which was the center of Jewish worship, were leaving the holy city and going to John. And even though there was a baptismal rite among the Jews for Gentile converts, to symbolize the cleansing they needed, Jews themselves were not baptized because they were considered members of the covenant who didn’t need the type of total conversion that baptism symbolized. And yet many were accepting John’s message and being converted. Those who didn’t, like the scribes and Pharisees who had come from Jerusalem, who didn’t think themselves in need of this conversion and were questioning John about why he was baptizing, John summoned with vehemence, calling them a brood of vipers and telling them that the axe is already at the root of their spiritual trees. As they questioned him, he said he was baptizing with water for repentance but another was coming after him who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire and who would be so holy that John wouldn’t even be fit to untie the straps of his sandals, the footwear by which he would come into contact with the world.
  • Yet when that One who would baptize with the Spirit and fire finally came to the Jordan, the one whom God promised he would indicate by having a dove descend on him, the one he was anticipating to point out as the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world, fulfilling what was longed for in the baptism by John in the Jordan, he did something that caught John totally off guard. He took his place in the line of sinners and asked to be baptized. John was shocked. He tried to prevent him, St. Matthew tells us, and said, “”I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” But Jesus replied, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” In anticipation of Jesus’ lining up among two thieves on Calvary, his baptism of blood through which he would take away the sins of the world, Jesus here was entering into baptism by water to fulfill all righteousness. By so doing, he was sanctifying the waters of baptism so that they would actually be able sacramentally to do what they were signifying, and take away sins. The way that miracle would take place would not be by water, but by entering into Christ himself who had entered the Jordan, by being incorporated into his own life.
  • There were three signs of what was going on. The first was that heaven was ripped open. Our entering into Jesus through baptism would open the doors of heaven. Second, the Holy Spirit descended like a dove on top of him: the “spirit and fire” that John had announced happened when Jesus himself arose. And third, God the Father spoke, saying “This is my Son, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” The first part of that phrase came from Psalm 2, when God says of Jesus, “You are my son. Today I have begotten you,” which was a Messianic verse toward the son of David. The second part, “in whom I am well-pleased,” pointed to the top of Messiah Jesus would be: the Suffering Servant, as testified to by Isaiah, as we see at the beginning of today’s first reading. God the Father was pleased in Jesus’ entering our world, entering the cesspool of our sins, to take those sins away and allow us to pass through the blown up doors of heaven.
  • There are two applications to this. The first is that Jesus continues to enter into our reality like he immersed himself in the dirty waters of the Jordan to make us clean. He enters into our sinful situation in order that we might through his mercy enter into his divinity. Even more than entering into the Jordan, he enters into my life as a priest and enters into your life as religious as your Bridegroom. He shares our reality in order to redeem it. The second application is that we, too, are called in turn, in communion with him, to enter into the situation of sinners, rather than try to separate ourselves from them. He wants us to immerse ourselves in the midst of them without losing our communion with him.
  • The communion that begins in baptism is meant to lead to the communion fulfilled in the Eucharist, in which we enter into Jesus’ anointing by the Spirit and into his well-pleasing divine filiation. With great awe, echoing the Baptist who indicates him as the Lamb of God, we, unworthy to untie his sandals, say, “Domine, non sum dignus!,” “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof,” but Jesus says the word, heals us, and asks us to allow him to act in this way so as to fulfill all righteousness and help make us righteous in him.

 

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 IS 42:1-4, 6-7

Thus says the LORD:
Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
upon whom I have put my spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations,
not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
a bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching.

I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations,
to open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.

Responsorial Psalm PS 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10

R. (11b) The Lord will bless his people with peace.
Give to the LORD, you sons of God,
give to the LORD glory and praise,
Give to the LORD the glory due his name;
adore the LORD in holy attire.
R. The Lord will bless his people with peace.
The voice of the LORD is over the waters,
the LORD, over vast waters.
The voice of the LORD is mighty;
the voice of the LORD is majestic.
R. The Lord will bless his people with peace.
The God of glory thunders,
and in his temple all say, “Glory!”
The LORD is enthroned above the flood;
the LORD is enthroned as king forever.
R. The Lord will bless his people with peace.

Alleluia MK 9:7

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The heavens were opened and the voice of the Father thundered:
This is my beloved Son, listen to him.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 3:13-17

Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan
to be baptized by him.
John tried to prevent him, saying,
“I need to be baptized by you,
and yet you are coming to me?”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us
to fulfill all righteousness.”
Then he allowed him.
After Jesus was baptized,
he came up from the water and behold,
the heavens were opened for him,
and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove
and coming upon him.
And a voice came from the heavens, saying,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”