Jesus Redeems our Baptism

By being baptized, Jesus redeemed our Baptism.

Homily for the Baptism of the Lord, January 12, 2020.

Jesus Redeems our Baptism

Note: this homily was preached on January 12, 2020. It was posted online on January 17, 2020.

Why did Jesus insist on being baptized?

Battesimo di Cristo (Baptism of Christ) – Andrea Verrocchio and Leonardo da Vinci

It was not even the same as the sacramental baptism we now receive. Strictly speaking, it had no power of law over the people. Jesus had no need of John’s baptism. John knew this. He protested Jesus’s request. Jesus replied to these protests, saying, “Allow it for now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” What does this mean, though? How would Jesus receiving John’s baptism fulfill righteousness?

John’s baptism was one of repentance. It had no sacrament power to forgive sins, but it allowed people to show God that they recognized their sinfulness and that they desired to repent and be closer to him. In receiving John’s baptism, Jesus showed solidarity with us. He had no need to repent. It is quite impossible for God himself to sin, but Jesus was also fully human. He knew that we need to repent. He wanted to be with us in every way possible. There is an ancient principle within Christianity, it goes back to at least St. Gregory of Nazianzus in the fourth century. In the fourth century, we, as a church, still had a lot to figure out. Many heresies attacked the idea that Jesus was fully human and fully God at the same time. People were scandalized that God would demean himself so much that he would become a human being. In fact, some say that this scandal goes back to before the creation of the universe itself—that Satan’s refusal to follow God was based on the fact that God was going to become human. Anyway, the principle St. Gregory Nazianzus articulated was the idea that anything which is not assumed is not redeemed. If Jesus had not been fully human, if he had not lived a fully human experience, then we could not be healed of our sins and saved. Jesus allowed a baptism of repentance so that he could experience the very human experience of repentance. He experienced human repentance and purified it, he healed it, he made our repentance holy.

While John’s baptism could not change Jesus, Jesus did change baptism. By being baptized in the waters of the Jordan, Jesus communicated his holiness to those waters. By submitting to John’s baptism of water, he made the waters of baptism holy. His holiness was contagious. That water communicated the holiness to all the rest of the water on the planet, by virtue of the water cycle and all that science stuff we learned about in grade school, and so now all water has been made holy for baptism. When we entered into these now holy waters of repentance in our baptisms, they put to death all that is sinful within us. Then this same sanctified water is used when the Holy Spirit raises us back to life, instilling the fire of Christ in our hearts, as the words that change us and open us up to a new life of grace are pronounced: I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

This brings me to my final point. Jesus’s Baptism is also an epiphany. We used to celebrate it as a part of Epiphany, and the Eastern Church still celebrates this feast primarily on Epiphany. God reveals himself to us in a couple of critically important ways on this occasion. It is, perhaps, the first time when God the Father, in the voice, God the Holy Spirit, in the dove, and God the Son, as receiving the baptism, are all together and manifesting themselves to the people at the same time. God reveals himself to be a Trinity at Jesus’s baptism. Furthermore, when the Father calls Jesus his Son, it reveals that this person standing before them, Jesus, is truly God, truly divine. God fully reveals himself at the Baptism of Jesus: He shows that Jesus, the Messiah, is truly and fully God and truly and fully man, and God reveals that he is a communion—a community—of persons.

Today, we thank God for the gift of his Baptism, through which he revealed so much of himself to us. We also thank him for the gift of our own baptisms, through which he opens our hearts and our souls to his holy grace which, if we allow it, will lead us back to him in Heaven.

Today’s Readings:
January 12, 2020
Baptism of the Lord, Year A
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-38; Matthew 3:13-17

Jesus is God!

In the Gospel today, we hear a story that is familiar to many of us. We call it “The Feeding of the 5,000.” If we let it remain a story only about feeding a multitude of people, remember it was 5,000 men, but there were also women and children there, then we might miss many, many important things. By performing this amazing miracle, Jesus is teaching us something about himself that is vitally important: he is revealing who he is.

Jesus and his disciples have retired to a mountain to rest, but a large crowd has followed him and are hungry. Jesus sees them, he is moved with pity for them, and he desires to feed them. Jesus sends his close disciples out to find out if anyone in the crowd has food. In that vast multitude, the only food they find is five loaves of bread and two fish. The disciples don’t think that’s enough, but Jesus proceeds. He says a prayer of thanks—notice that even Jesus prays before meals, in full view of those around him—and then distributes the food to the people. The people eat as much as they want, and there are still 12 wicker baskets full when they’re done!

This miracle might remind us of another time God saw a vast multitude of hungry people and decided to feed them: while the Jews were wandering in the desert after escaping Egypt, God fed them manna and sent quail for them to eat while they were in the desert. The people could eat all the wanted, and they couldn’t take the leftovers with them. There are a lot of parallels. If the Jews had seen it this way, they might have recognized Jesus as God. Instead, they recognized the miracle of Elisha that we heard in the first reading. They thought Jesus was an amazing prophet, like Elijah and Moses. They wanted to make him king, but only a worldly king, so Jesus withdrew again to the mountain to pray. In the meantime, the 12 disciples who would later be called the apostles got in a boat and started heading back to Capernaum. They were, I imagine, exhausted, and looking to take a break from all the work they had been doing.

We don’t read the next few verses in John’s Gospel, but I think that they are critical to understanding the whole point of this all. In the verses we don’t read, Jesus performs another miracle. Well, actually, he performs three miracles. We join the disciples in their boat, they had already rowed several miles. It is night-time; the Gospel says it was dark. The sea is “stirred up” because of a heavy wind: when it gets windy out, the Sea of Galilee can get quite angry. Jesus had not left with them. Then, suddenly, they see Jesus walking on the water, near the boat. They were afraid. Jesus says to them “It is I” or “I AM,” and tells them not to be afraid. The storm calms, and they then immediately arrive at the shore of Capernaum. Three miracles: walking on water, calming the storm, and the sudden arrival of the boat.

This whole episode tells us one critical thing about Jesus: one critical thing which changes everything about what has happened and will continue to happen in John’s Gospel. By walking on the water, Jesus does something totally unique. Nobody else in the history of the Jewish people had walked on water. Moses and Elijah, the great law-giver and the great prophet, had walked on dry land after God parts the water for them. Jesus walks on the water. Something greater than Moses and Elijah is here. By calming the storm, Jesus shows that he has direct power over nature. Again, Elijah was able to pray for droughts and rain, but it was always God who acted: never Elijah. Jesus simply calmed the storm. Something greater than Moses and Elijah was here. Walking on water and calming the storm are two miracles that show Jesus could directly control the forces of nature. Throughout all Jewish history, the Jewish people knew that only God can control nature in such a way. If Jesus was doing this, the soon-to-be apostles could come to only one conclusion: Jesus is God. So, they were afraid. All through the Bible, whenever someone comes face-to-face with God, it says they are afraid. Jesus responds as God always does when people are afraid: he says, “It is I. Do not be afraid.” He says to them that it is me, Jesus, you friend. Yes, now you known my true identity, but do not be afraid. I am here with you always. I will always be here for you. Then he demonstrates his loving care for them, his knowledge of their desires, because the boat miraculously arrives at their destination.

The feeding of the 5,000 and the episode of walking on water are here in John’s Gospel for a very important reason. They show us who Jesus is. He is God. He has God’s authority. We need to know that Jesus has this authority, because what comes next in the Gospel according to John is hard to accept and understand. The next day, Jesus gives to his followers a teaching which leads to many of them to abandon him. If the apostles didn’t know, absolutely, that Jesus had Divine authority, that Jesus was God, they might have left too.

For the next four Sundays, we will be working our way through this hard teaching of Jesus. Today, though, we take a moment to ponder something that we may not think about as much as we should: Jesus is God. Jesus is the Son of God, the Divine Word, who took on human flesh and became one of us. Not only does this mean that we humans received a gift of which the angels could only dream, God has never become an angel, but it means that Jesus has all the authority of God over creation. How did Jesus use his authority? He used it to give us himself in the Eucharist. He used it to give his apostles the authority to forgive our sins. He used it to die on the Cross and open for us the gate of Heaven, so that all who choose to follow him will be saved.

Today’s Readings:
July 29, 2018
17th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalms 145:10-11, 15-16, 17-18; Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:1-15

Reflection for the Third Thursday of Easter

“I beg you, about whom is the prophet saying this?”

Then, Philip “proclaimed Jesus” to the eunuch. He didn’t just tell the eunuch the name “Jesus.” He proclaimed Jesus. He undoubtedly told him Jesus is the son of Mary and Joseph, but also the Son of God. He would have told him that Jesus is both fully God, and fully man. He would have told him that Jesus is the complete fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, (this is how Jews referred to the scriptures that make up what we call the Old Testament) and the living embodiment of the Good News. (Remember, the New Testament hadn’t been written yet!) He would have undoubtedly told the eunuch that Jesus came to save us from sin and bring us to life everlasting. Like the disciples on the way to Emmaus, the eunuch must have been burning inside. He stops at the first water they see and begs for Baptism.

“I beg you, about whom is the prophet saying this?”

What a marvelous question!

We know that the answer is Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the Son of God, but how often do we ponder that answer? How often do we actually think about Jesus? Who is he? What is he? Why did he come here? The Gospels, especially today’s passage from John, tell us all these things. They tell us these things, which truly happened, so that we may know who Jesus is. If we know who Jesus is, we can enter into a relationship with him. Once we do that, we can understand even better who he is, we can begin to grasp at what he is, and we can finally realize why he came to save us. We can never run out of new things to ponder when it comes to Jesus, and that is why this question is so striking, because it forces us to ask ourselves: “Who is Jesus?”

Today’s Readings: Acts 8:26-40; Ps 66:8-9, 16-17, 20; Jn 6:44-51