The Significance of Christ’s Baptism for Our Immersion in Christ, Baptism of the Lord, January 8, 2018

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Mission of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Baptism of the Lord
January 8, 2018
Is 42:1-4.6-7, Ps 29, Acts 10:34-38, Mk 1:7-11

 

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. This was symbolizing a new form of worship being inaugurated. St. John the Baptist, like his father Zechariah, was a member of the priestly class. Jews normally went through a mikvah making ritual ablutions before being ritually cleansed to enter into the temple area, and the Jordan, baptism, was being announced as the new ablution that makes us ready to worship. And when the high priest once a year would enter into the Holy of Holies to whisper the name of God, the heavens, it was believed, would be opened, just like the curtain of the temple was ripped from top to bottom; we see in this seen heaven ripped open showing that the worship being given would no longer be on one mountaintop, as Jesus himself would say later, but everywhere in “spirit and in truth.”
  • What was happening at the Jordan was symbolizing the conversion necessary to enter into this new form of worship, to make straight the paths of the Lord, to repent. Normally, 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 in his account, 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. This is the means by which what we remarked on Christmas day could take place, how we could begin to share in the divinity of him who in humility took on our humanity. We would be immersed in him.
  • 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 “baptism by the Spirit” that John had announced happened when Jesus himself arrived. And third, God the Father spoke, saying “”You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The first part of that phrase comes 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, “with you I am well-pleased,” points to the type 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. It’s through baptism that Jesus carries out the prophecy we hear in the first reading: he brings forth justice to the nations by justifying us; he does so quietly, without crying, shouting, making his voice heard or fan fare; he becomes the covenant of the people, literally the “new and eternal covenant” between God and man, in which God and man are hypostatically united in an inseparable bond; through baptism he becomes a light to the nations — the Baptism is linked to the Epiphany and to the Wedding of Cana as a triple manifestation of Jesus as light to the nations — and it’s through this that he illumines and opens the eyes of the blind to walk by faith, brings prisoners out of the confinement of sin and injustice, and liberates from the dungeon those who are living in the darkness of ignorance.
  • 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. Just like he entered the waters of the Jordan he created, so he enters the human lives he created 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.

 

Reading 1 ACTS 10:34-38

Peter proceeded to speak to those gathered
in the house of Cornelius, saying:
“In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.
Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly
is acceptable to him.
You know the word that he sent to the Israelites
as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all,
what has happened all over Judea,
beginning in Galilee after the baptism
that John preached,
how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth
with the Holy Spirit and power.
He went about doing good
and healing all those oppressed by the devil,
for God was with him.”

Alleluia CF. JN 1:29

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
John saw Jesus approaching him, and said:
Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MK 1:7-11

This is what John the Baptist proclaimed:
“One mightier than I is coming after me.
I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
I have baptized you with water;
he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee
and was baptized in the Jordan by John.
On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open
and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.
And a voice came from the heavens,
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”