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

God Is With Us

Tonight, we hold vigil in preparation for that most incredible event: the birth of Jesus, the Christ Child. We hold vigil, because he is not yet born. The entire universe awaits that glorious moment, when God speaks his Word to all of us: that Word which burst forth from God and creates all things; that Word which God cannot keep quiet; that Word which vindicates; that Word that shines forth, like a burning torch; that Word, foretold by all the prophets and heralded by the greatest of the prophets, John the Baptist. The entire universe awaits, with pangs of labor, for God to speak his Word. The entire universe awaits, as the Virgin Mary prepares to give birth to her son and our Savior.

As we wait for this joyous event, we do what every family does when we wait: we tell our stories. We speak of those who have gone before us. We remember our past, how we got here, and where the future might lead. Tonight, we heard a long list of names, but each of these names has a story. It is the family tree of Jesus, the human lineage of God himself. His family history is that of the entire human race. To really understand it, we have to go further back, though. We must go to the beginning, to the dawn of history.

In the beginning, God created the universe and everything in it out of love. The crowning moment of God’s creation was his creation of humanity and our first parents, Adam and Eve. These progenitors of humanity spoke for all of us, as parents speak for their children even now. They initially accepted God’s great gift, but soon began to doubt. They experienced that all too human of emotions: fear that God might not mean what he says. Satan, the vile tempter and the enemy of all humanity, saw his opening in those seeds of doubt and convinced Adam and Eve to do something seemingly innocuous and small: to disobey God. To say “no” to the One who created all out of love. The “small” decision, though, shattered the entire universe. Humanity was separated from God and his love, no longer able to see with eyes of faith. Adam and Eve were bound to toil and labor for their nourishment, bearing children became painful, and human vision was clouded through the fog of sin. We must now search and strive and suffer. We are all born, wounded by this original sin. After Adam and Eve, humanity has experienced millennia of pain and suffering as a result of that tragic, small choice.

That is not where our story ends, though. That is just the beginning. Because even as our story took a turn for the worse, as the universe was shattered and the human soul wounded for all time, God also give us a promise of redemption. He is never willing to accept defeat, and he will always fight for us. Despite the tragic sin perpetrated against our all-loving God, he condemns the vile serpent. In Genesis 3:15, God vows to “put enmity between you,” that is, Satan, “and the woman, and between your offspring,” that is, all Satan’s perfidious minions, “and hers; They will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel.” This woman: Mary. This offspring: Jesus. But humanity was not ready yet. You see, we expected a savior. The Jews had figured out that a Messiah was coming, but what we got was so much than we ever expected. What we got was something we never expected. Nobody expected that God himself would become man. God knew this, and he had to prepare the world—us—so we might recognize him when he comes.

The beginning of this preparation was with Abraham, our father in faith, the first in the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Abram was faithful to God, he followed God wherever he was led. God rewarded him with a covenant: he would be the God of Abraham, and Abraham and his descendants would be God’s chosen people. The descendants of Abraham were called to be a light to all the nations. Isaac, Jacob, and those following generations took up this mantle, finding their climax in David the king. There are a few blemishes in the record, and you can find all their stories in Genesis, but King David represented the height of Israel. From that height, Israel shined throughout the world as a beacon. Sadly, it did not remain such a beacon. Solomon, the son of David, begins the next set of names. These names tell the opposite story: one of decline into darkness. Where David repented and turned toward God, Solomon persisted in his sin and turned to false gods. There are a few bright spots in the record, but most of these names belong to kings who led Israel further away from God and into the darkness. Their stories are in the books of Kings. The Babylonian exile ends this list at the darkest moment in Jewish history.

The nation of Israel suffered many times under foreign rulers, but nothing quite compares to the Babylonian exile in Jewish consciousness. I am not exaggerating when I say that in Jewish consciousness, the two worst moments in their history—the two moments in history every Jew remembers with pain—were the Babylonian exile and the Holocaust. That’s the kind of darkness and tragedy that we’re talking about here.

The next set of names, beginning with the Babylonian exile and ending with Jesus is largely silent in Jewish history. From the darkness of exile, generations of silence emerged. At the end of that silence, after generations of darkness, there came a light: a burning torch, which cut through the night. That torch was Jesus, the Christ, the Word, spoken by the Father, through whom all was created. Jesus, both fully God and fully human, came to save his people from their sins. Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecy under King Ahaz—one of those names we just heard—that the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel. Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecy to David that his son, a member of his line, shall sit on the throne forever. Jesus was the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham that from his descendants a light shall shine forth to all the nations.

Tonight, we hold vigil in preparation for that most incredible event. The entire universe awaits, with pangs of labor, for God to speak his Word. The entire universe awaits, as the Virgin Mary prepares to give birth to her son and our Savior. As we wait, let us ponder our history. Let us recognize God’s desire and love for us. The angel that appeared to Joseph told him not to be afraid to take Mary into his home. As Joseph was called not to fear, so are we. Let us not be afraid to allow Jesus into our hearts. It can be frightening to allow God into our hearts, because when we do we might recognize that we have to change. We might recognize that God is calling us to more. That is not a small ask. God is calling us to greatness and perfection. That request can be frightening.

But do not be afraid. Jesus is coming. He will save us from our sins, and he will be with us for all ages. Emmanuel, God is with us, is more than just a name. It’s a promise. The question we must ask ourselves this Christmas is this: How can I let God be with me?

The Holy Night
The Holy Night – Antonio da Carreggio

Today’s Readings
December 24, 2019 (published December 27, 2019 at 11:06 am)
Christmas – Vigil Mass
Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 89; Acts 13:16-17, 22-25; Matthew 1:1-25

Reflection for the Second Wednesday of Lent

You know that feeling where you must say something, but you know it is going to make everyone mad? You don’t want to do it, but it needs happen. I get that feeling a lot. Sometimes I will try to talk myself out of it, saying “they don’t really need to know that,” or “I’m sure they’ve already thought of this.” Other times, especially when I have to correct someone, I think, “God said ‘judge lest ye be judged,’” or “turn the other cheek.” Maybe if the other person is older and supposed to be much wiser than me, I might think, “I am not smart enough to correct this person, I am just a child.”

I think that Jeremiah probably came up with all these excuses, and probably more. The book of Jeremiah begins with Jeremiah trying to tell God he was too young and not ready to be a prophet. God replied, “Say not, ‘I am too young.’ To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak. Have no fear before them, because I am with you to deliver.” God had called Jeremiah to proclaim the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple to the people of Jerusalem: his job was to tell everybody “repent or you will all be exiled or killed, and everybody’s stuff will be destroyed.” This would be, to a Catholic in modern times, like someone saying “the Vatican, every government building, and every social media site on the internet will all be destroyed,” and not only will they all be destroyed, but anyone who survives gets to go live among a hostile population. It sounded ridiculous. No wonder the people were plotting to kill Jeremiah! They thought he was a nut job! It didn’t really cross their minds as to whether he might be right.

Jeremiah is troubled by the response of the people. He especially doesn’t understand why he is being “repaid with evil” for doing a good thing. He spent his entire life going where he did not want to go, and preaching to a people who would not listen. I’m sure many of us can relate to this. We do something good and receive bitterness, criticism, and hatred in return.

Jesus definitely knew what Jeremiah was going through. Jesus spent his life preaching of God’s justice, love, and mercy, healing the sick, casting out demons—all very good things to do—and he was repaid with torture and crucifixion. Through Jesus’s death, however, something amazing happened. Because of his sacrifice, Heaven was opened to humanity. His apostles followed him and became servants to all, and most even followed him to their own martyrdoms. Jesus went further though, and called all of us to follow him.

What is in common among Jeremiah, the apostles, us, and Jesus? Suffering. We all suffer. We suffer even when we do good. The apostles all suffered, and Jesus told them it was going to happen! He told them, in front of James and John’s mother, that they would share his chalice, the chalice of suffering. It doesn’t make sense. It hurts. But through our suffering, something we could never expect happens. We are drawn closer to God. We come to a greater realization of what is most important (trusting and loving God!) in our lives. When we see others suffer, we learn to have compassion and to recognize others as worthy of love. Most incredibly of all, we learn to offer our suffering to God. We learn to unite our suffering with the suffering of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Through the Cross our suffering is transformed into something new. It is transformed into a redemptive sacrifice for mankind.

So, in this time of Lent, either in our small and intentional Lenten sacrifices we make to grow, or in the large sufferings thrown at us, let us remember to unite our suffering with Jesus on His Cross. Let us make it a gift to God that will help redeem the world. It will be hard. It will be painful. But God can bring good out of even the worst situations.

Edited for grammar and structure on March 15, 2017.

Today’s Readings: Jer 18:18-20; Ps 31:5-6, 14, 15-16; Mt 20:17-28

Reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent

“Abram went as the Lord directed him.”

I am often tempted to think that life would be so much easier if God would just come down and tell me what to do. The Old Testament seems to be full of these stories, where God simply dictates commands, laws and prophecies to people like Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Daniel, and Isaiah. If God was willing to tell these guys what to do, why won’t he just come and tell us what to do? Again, I am tempted to think that if God would work some spectacular miracle, and through some miraculous appearance witnessed by millions announced his will, the whole world would change.

But it wouldn’t.

After realizing this, I also remember something critical: God did tell us what he wants us to do. He didn’t just send a prophet to tell us, either. He sent Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity to tell us. God Himself came to Earth, and He told us what to do to have eternal life with Him. Not only did he tell us how to reach paradise, Jesus offered up his own life as a sacrifice to redeem all of us.

In today’s psalm, we pray, “Our soul waits for the Lord, who is our help and our shield. May your kindness, O Lord, be upon us who have put our hope in you.” We have put our hope in God, to lead us and to guide us. The Jewish people were waiting for the Lord to bring his mercy to them. They had no idea of the extent to which the Lord would go to shower his endless mercy upon us. His mercy delivers us from death, and preserves us always, fulfilling everything for which the psalmist prayed all the years ago—and for which we still pray today. God’s mercy has not dried up! He still showers it upon us every day.

The grace and mercy of God was “made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus,” Paul says. Jesus saved us from death and opened the gates of Heaven for all who love God. Paul reminds us that our journey will be difficult—just as Abraham’s was. We, however, will not be alone. Paul reminds us that God will give us the strength that we need for the journey. This journey, to a holy life, is what we are called to do in this part of our lives. God calls us all to himself, and while we are alive on this earth and in this way, he desires us to live holy lives, to live our lives devoted to God and all those things which are good. We are called to love our neighbor, and to love our enemy. We are called to offer up our time, our talents, and our treasures not just to serve our God, not just to serve our neighbor, but to serve all people. We are called to be good stewards of this planet, good stewards of our countries, good stewards of our communities, and good stewards of our lives. Everything we have—even our body—is a gift for God himself!

Transfiguration - Raphaelthese gifts, of which we are called to be stewards, pale in comparison to the greatest gift God gave humanity. Through his Passion, Death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ destroyed death. The effects of this are enormous! The Transfiguration in the Gospel today gives us a tiny glimpse into what this means. Our God is a God not of the dead, but of the living. The prophets of the Old Testament are alive with God, who in his glory shines as brightly as the sun!

Such an idea, such a sight can be frightening. Especially when a voice from Heaven accompanies it, says “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” But Jesus tells us not to be afraid.

Why should we not be afraid? Through our Baptism, we have become sons and daughters of God. God loves us, and desires that we join him in Heaven for eternity. This will happen if we follow the will of God and live holy lives. We can do this because God gives us the strength to endure hardship so that we may do what is just and right. When we trust God, as Abram did, he does not abandon us. Just look at what happened with Abram. God says to him

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you.”

God eventually made the Israelite nation from Abraham’s descendants, which was great and very blessed, until they turned away from God. While Abraham’s name was still great, the people had ceased being a blessing. They did not go out and spread their blessings to the other communities of the earth. The Israelites had become a curse unto themselves. Then Jesus came. He took the curse onto himself and brought the Kingdom of God onto the earth in the Church. The Church, now, takes the place of the Israelite nation. Abraham is known as “our father in faith.” The Church has been blessed throughout the ages, because God has protected it from the assaults of the enemy. All the communities on earth have been blessed by the Church, because that is her mission: to be all things to all peoples, and to go forth to all the nations, spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ, and baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Today’s Readings: Gn 12:1-4a; Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22; 2 Tim 1:8b-10; Mt 17:1-9