Saturday, January 11, 2014

HOMILY - Baptism of the Lord (Year A)

Urban Meyer, the head coach of the Ohio State football team, has a son who is the same age of my oldest son, Riley, and who plays sports for St. Brigid. Inevitably when we play St. Brigid, there is a buzz on the stands of “which player is Urban Meyer’s son,” and “is Urban Meyer here?” I will sometimes kid with my son Riley, do you think that the fans from St. Brigid ask “which player is the deacon’s son” or “is the deacon here?” We both laugh and agree that those questions are highly unlikely. While I would not want the level of attention that Urban Meyer or any other celebrity might attract, it causes me to reflect on my own identity: how I am known by family, friends and even strangers, and for what. Said differently, is it clear to others that I am a Christian man—a husband, father, deacon? A man who believes in and trusts God, and who follows his commands. At least this is what I desire, even if in my human weakness I do not trust, believe, and follow God as often and as well as I can or should. There continues to be scholarly debate as to when Jesus knew his full and true identity as the Son of Mary and the Son of God, and his purpose on earth – some arguing that he knew his whole life, while others argue that it was not until later on as an adult. If there was any doubt before, Jesus’ Baptism by John, which we celebrate in today’s Liturgy, leaves Jesus and us with two certainties: first, that Jesus is the Messiah, the chosen one of God; and second, that the Baptism initiated his public ministry of service and ultimately of sacrifice. There are a couple other of important things to say about Jesus’ Baptism: First, it is a historical fact. The accuracy and reliability of this historical event is found in the fact that all four gospels include this story. More to the point, Jesus’ persistence at being baptized by John has tended to be an embarrassment to many—even John states: “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” For some this was a great embarrassment that our Lord and King would be baptized, and it was great threat to the understanding of Jesus’ true divinity and even Christianity itself, that many tried to downplay or suppress this story. Fortunately, this Feast in the history of the Church has been recently restored to the liturgical calendar and to its right and proper prominence in following the Epiphany and closing out the Christmas season. So, while Jesus’ Baptism is a historical fact, for us it is also theological—that is it helps us understand our relationship with God—which teaches us a second important point about Jesus’ Baptism: that Baptism is a necessity in our relationship with God. As the scripture scholar William Barclay points out: it was inconceivable for the Jewish people—the chosen people of God, the children of Abraham, who felt assured of God’s salvation—that they would ever need baptism. While Jews at the time of Jesus knew of and used baptism, it was only for converts to Judaism; it was only for sinners, shut out from God. So, it is significant that the Gospel author—a Jew writing to a Jewish community—includes this important act of Jesus submitting to baptism by John and even more important, that Jesus, a Jew and the Messiah, would be Baptized. To be clear, and this is the third point, Jesus was not a sinner, shut out from God and in need of Baptism—he was and is without sin and in unity with God the Father; however, by submitting to Baptism, Jesus unites himself with those who are in need of Baptism – you and me. As our leader and lord, Jesus became one with us through participation in this sacrament of repentance and renewal. And by Jesus’ Baptism through water, he makes holy the water by which we are Baptize, giving it the power to forgive sins and unite us with Him. A fourth important point about Jesus’ Baptism is that this event is part of a bigger plan that God has for Jesus and the world. As Jesus states to John in today’s Gospel: “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus is obedient to the Father’s will and cooperates with God’s plan for him and the world. And out of great love for and obedience to his Father, he submitted to Baptism so that we might be restored in the right or just relationship with God through our own Baptism. A final point about Jesus’ Baptism is what the voice from Heaven said: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” As William Barclay points out, this sentence is composed of two separate quotations from the Old Testament. The first is a reference to Psalm 2, which every Jew at the time understood as a reference to the Messiah, the might King of God who was to come. The second quote comes from today’s First Reading from Isaiah, which describes the suffering servant, who: shall bring forth justice to the nations. The voice of God the Father not only grants Jesus credibility and authority as King and Lord, but also directs his mission and purpose—to be 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. We can say then that Jesus at his Baptism is anoint by the Father as a priest, prophet and king. And just as Christ was anointed at his baptism for a life of prayer, teaching an service, it was at our Baptism, that we were anointed priest, prophet and king. This is our true and full identity: to be priestly: praying and bringing others to prayer; to be prophetic: seeking the truth, sharing that truth with others, and ready to defend that truth; and kingly: humbling serving others. Going back to my original question: how I am known by family, friends and even strangers, and for what? This can be our measure: how well do we live as priest, prophet and king. While each of us have our own gifts and opportunities in this world, and are called to live unique lives, at the very core of our identity it is our ability to live the lives we were anointed to live. I encourage you to spend some time this week reflecting on how well you live out your priestly, prophetic and kingly life. How well you pray and bringing others to prayer; how well you seek the truth, sharing that truth with others, and are ready and able to defend that truth; and how well and often you humbly serve others. And my prayer for you and me is that there is no doubt in ourselves and others that we are Christian men and women. May God bless you.