JANUARY 11, 2004- BAPTISM OF OUR LORD: HOMILY – IS 42:1-7; MATTHEW 3:13-17
JESUS APPEARED BEFORE JOHN TO BE BAPTIZED BY HIM. WHEN JOHN OBJECTED HE SAID: ‘WE MUST DO THIS IF WE WOULD FULFILL ALL OF GOD’S COMMANDS.’ John was given a special grace to recognize our Lord as the one sent by God to take away sin. He sensed that he was uniquely holy, free of sin. Not only did Jesus not need his baptism, a sign of repentance; by receiving it, he could give the wrong message as if John were in some way superior to him.
Our Lord, however, was keenly aware of a constraint that will ever be paradoxical for those who are not enlightened with the faith that he was to impart through his Spirit at a later time. He was to state his situation in the strongest of terms once he entered upon his public ministry. When he was criticized for healing a badly crippled man on the Sabbath, he explained that he was not dishonoring God’s commandment; rather, he was carrying out his plan. He implied that the healings he effects are a sign of the spiritual cleansing that he came to effect and which was earlier symbolized by his baptism. “I can do nothing of myself. I judge matters by what I hear and my judgment is just for I do not seek my own will but the will of him who sent me.” (John 5:30) At the same time, those who observed Jesus closely noted that he was sovereignly free. Already when he was 12 years old, his freedom in the service of obedience to his Father astonished his parents. He felt it was obvious that he would act independently, separating himself from their company. His enemies acknowledged this inner freedom so characteristic of his manner: “Master”, they said, seeking to trap him, “we know that you are true and teach the way of God in truth, and have no concern for what anybody thinks of you” (Matthew 22:16).
The source of Jesus’ freedom is the Spirit sent upon Mary at the time of his conception so that his very existence as man takes its origin from the Spirit of the Father and operates under his influence. At his baptism he receives a particular increment of the Spirit’s gifts to enlighten and strengthen him for carrying out the Father’s plan of redemption. To obey in the Spirit is the freest expression of love and at the same time the highest realization of one’s personality. Accordingly, Jesus requires of his followers that we obey those whom he sets over his Church. “He who hears you,” he told his apostles, “hears me”.
On the night before he died, Jesus stressed to his closest disciples that the meaning of his coming death was love: his love for them as shown by obedience to the Father’s plan for the reconciliation and sanctification of the human family. He went on to teach them that the way his followers are to show our love for him is precisely to obey his commandments. Similarly, at the beginning of his public life, as he submitted to John’s baptism, Jesus received a striking declaration from the Father assuring him that he held a unique place in the love of the God whom he knew as Father. “A voice was heard from heaven: ‘You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” According to Mark, it was with these words in his ears that Jesus was impelled by the Spirit to go out into the desert to enter into combat with the forces of evil and from there to his ministry.
The mystery of Jesus’ baptism, then is the first revelation of the Blessed Trinity. It is reveled by word and by act. This revelation stands at the beginning of our Lord’s public life and serves as a key to our understanding the meaning that our Lord’s activity and suffering, his life and his death, held for him. Its meaning is a loving obedience, in the freedom of the Spirit, to the Father’s love. For there is no greater love than that which gives one’s whole self in willing obedience that is the recognition of another’s transcendent excellence. On this feast of his Baptism, may we, one and all, receive at this altar, that same Sprit by whom Jesus loved his own unto the end.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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