Monday, January 7, 2013

Homily - The Baptism of the Lord (Year C)

The Baptism of the Lord (Year C)

First Reading: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11     Second Reading: Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7     Gospel Reading: Luke 3;15-16, 21-22


There is a story told of the machinist who worked years ago at the original Ford Motor Company plant in Detroit, Michigan. Over a period of years he had “borrowed” from the factory various car parts and tools which he hadn’t bothered to return. While the management never condoned this practice, nothing was ever done about it.
In time, however the “forgetful” machinist experienced a Christian conversion and was baptized. More importantly, the man took his baptism very seriously and became a devout believer. The very morning after his baptism, the machinist arrived at work with his pickup truck loaded with all the parts and tools he had taken from the Ford Company over the years. He went to his foreman and explained that he never really meant to steal them and asked to be forgiven.
The foreman was so astonished and impressed by this act that he cabled Henry Ford himself, contacting the auto magnate while he was away visiting a European Ford plant. In his telegram the foreman described the entire event in great detail. Ford immediately cabled back this striking two-line response: “Dam up the Detroit River. Baptize the entire Plant!”

Today, we solemnly celebrate the feast of “The Baptism of the Lord.” Till yesterday, we celebrated an 'infant Jesus.' From today, we celebrate an 'adult Jesus.' This is why today's celebration marks the transition from the liturgical season of Christmas into the liturgical season of Ordinary Time. Today is also the First Sunday in Ordinary Time, although it is never celebrated. However, the prayers of its Mass will be said during the week.

The baptism of Our Lord Jesus by John the Baptist in the River Jordan is an important event in Jesus' life with profound significance. It is highly symbolic, having deep meaning with numerous implications. It's importance is characterized with the fact that all the three Evangelists of the Synoptic Gospels, viz. St. Matthew, St. Mark & St. Luke speak of this striking event. Although there are slight differences in their individual accounts - in reality however, all of them unanimously agree that the baptism of Our Lord Jesus also marks the beginning of his public ministry.

One may wonder, and even find it difficult to understand, and may ask the question: 'Why did Jesus need to be baptized by John the Baptist in the first place?' John the Baptist preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and therefore, most of those coming to him were repentant sinners. But Jesus was sinless; he did not commit any sin; so, in no way did he need this baptism of John the Baptist.
Again, John the Baptist wasn't the one who introduced baptism for the first time. From earlier time on, the Jewish people knew and were used to baptism, but they did not submit to it. Actually, it was used as an initiation rite for the pagan converts to Judaism from some other faith, whom they considered sin-stained or polluted. Even this aspect of baptism is still retained – when we are baptized, we are initiated into the Church and become its members.
Moreover, in the Gospel Reading of today from St. Luke, John the Baptist clearly states that he himself is not the Messiah but only the fore-runner, the herald of his coming. He is “not even worthy to undo the sandals of the One who is coming.” Undoing sandals was something only slaves did. John felt that, in Jesus' case, he was not even worthy to do that. And yet – “After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized, and was praying, ...”

'So, why did Jesus, the Sinless One, submit himself to John’s baptism?'
For two reasons:
Firstly, Jesus did it to show his unity and solidarity with the human race, which he came to save. In lining up for baptism by John like a sinner, Jesus set aside all exemption for himself and completely identified with the sinful humanity and became one like them. In this humble submission, we see a foreshadowing of the 'baptism' of his bloody death upon the cross. Jesus’ baptism is the acceptance and the beginning of his mission as God’s suffering Servant. He allowed himself to be numbered among sinners. He submitted himself entirely to his Father’s will. Out of love he consented to this baptism of death for the remission of our sins.
Secondly, he did it to sanctify the water of baptism, so that our sins are washed away and we come to a state of grace in order to follow him. This meaning of baptism in relation to forgiveness of sins is still maintained. When we are baptized, the original sin, as well as personal sins are washed away; we become free from sin and acquire the state of holiness & grace.
Now, Jesus' baptism in the river Jordan by John the Baptist gives a new, fuller and divine meaning to our own baptism. This extraordinary event was also an epiphany i.e. a manifestation or a revelation of who Jesus was - the Divine witness to Jesus’ standing as the Son of God. The Jordan scene was also one in which the threefold presence of God was manifested. The Spirit was seen in the form of a dove and the Son was affirmed by the Father - “And while he prayed, the heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven which said, 'You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.'" We notice St. Luke’s emphasis on prayer. Other gospel writers describe this event, but it is only St. Luke who points out that it happened while Jesus prayed.
In baptism, we too are named by God. All of us have different names, signifying our uniqueness before God. Yet in baptism, all of us are given the same name, viz. 'child of God,' signifying our oneness with God and our unity with one another in God. God says to Jesus at his baptism, 'You are my beloved Son, . . .' God says the same thing to each one of us in our baptism, 'You are my beloved daughter, my beloved son.'

Again, St. Luke speaks of two baptisms today. The first baptism is, of course, that of Jesus. The second one, though, is the one that we will receive “with the Holy Spirit and with fire”. In the second reading today in his Letter to Titus, St. Paul adds to this that through our own baptism we are saved, renewed, justified and made heirs of the kingdom of heaven. For when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. Here we see the true meaning of grace: 'G-R-A-C-E' spelling 'God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.'
In baptism, we have been 'tattooed,' so to speak, branded or identified by God as belonging to a community of disciples. Jesus is our master. Baptism is not just a simple rite or milestone in one’s life: it is a transforming experience in which God lives in us and we live in God. That’s our identity, our indelible brand. We become empowered by God’s grace, God’s favor, to live as a disciple of Jesus.
Jesus' baptism serves as a model for our baptism. For Jesus, baptism represents the beginning of his ministry. And what is that work that Jesus is to accomplish through his teaching, preaching and healing ministry? That is described in the First Reading of today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah: Isaiah promises that valleys will be filled and mountains and hills made low, as all obstacles will be removed and the glory of God will be revealed and made accessible to all. The Lord is coming in the person of Jesus: “He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms and carry them in his bosom and gently lead the mother sheep.” He is the Bread of Life and the Good Shepherd.
Our baptism is linked with that of Jesus. With baptism our new life of grace begins; it is a fresh start and also the gateway to the rest of Christian life. What we should be prepared for is that our journey of faith, much like Jesus' journey, continues to unfold long after our baptism as we try to discern what our baptism means in our daily living.

In his baptism, Jesus laid the foundation for a new dispensation of grace. From hence through the Sacrament of Baptism, the recipient begins a new life by establishing a union with the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and the Holy Spirit and receiving the gift of faith. In this new birth, the believer receives remission from sin, receives the Spirit of son-ship which enables him or her to become a child of God and a member of the Church, and a citizen of heaven. This way baptism becomes the gateway to the life of grace and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. In so doing, it defines the believer’s rights and responsibilities as a Christian, his/her privileges and mission.

Today, we celebrate the feast of “The Baptism of the Lord” by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. And in so doing, the Church invites all of us to renew our own baptismal promises, so that we can live ever more transparently as a disciple of Jesus, trying to do what is right, and true, and good, and beautiful.
By being baptized, even though he had no need to be cleansed from sin himself, Jesus takes our place. And we in turn, when we are baptized, are called to take Jesus' place, to become 'sons in the Son.' Thus through baptism, we put on Christ; we are clothed with Christ; we become one with Christ; we become another Christ.
Finally, it is very true that we receive baptism only once in our life-time, but it is never a one-time event; we have to live and keep our baptismal promises throughout our life. That is to say that we have to conform to Christ more and more daily. In order words, we who have received the grace of baptism must endeavor always to live up to our baptismal promises throughout our life – and this is the Good News of today.



  1. somehow the comment I tried to make here last week was not posted....I was moved especially by the First Reading from Isaiah regarding valleys being filled and mountains being made low as all obstacles are removed so the Glory Of God will be revealed and made accessible to us. of all the different dimensions of Baptism you talked about here, I enjoyed this in particular.

  2. In Baptism the Holy Spirit is communicated; we are"all baptized into the one body"(1 Corinthians 12:13)those who are baptized have been baptized into Christ's death(Romans6:3)these are all realities that take place ,hot alongside of Baptism with water,inasmuch as it is a baptism into Christ,into the name of Christ,is Baptism with the Spirit's it is a being born anew and at the same time from above"of water and of the Spirit"(John 3:5). Click here to learn more.

    Why do men accept the Scriptures about John's Baptism but reject the Scriptures concerning New Covenant baptism?


    Matthew 3:13-15....14 And John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I have need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me? 15 But Jesus answered and said to him, "Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he allowed Him. (NKJV)

    Matthew 3:13-15.......15 Jesus answered him, "This is the way it has to be now. This is the proper way to do everything that God requires of us." Then John gave in to him. (God's Word-Translation)

    Jesus was required to be baptized in water by John the Baptist in order to fulfill all righteousness. Had Jesus rejected John's baptism He would have been disqualified as a perfect sacrifice for mankind. Jesus was without sin, however, He still had to do all that God required Him to do.

    You will notice Jesus did not say I was baptized by John as a simple act of obedience, but it really was not essential in order for me to fulfill all righteousness.

    Luke 7:29-30 And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John. 30 But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God for themselves not having been baptized by him. (NKJV)

    Luke 7:29-30 And all who heard John preach---even the most wicked of them---agreed that God's requirements were right, and they were baptized by him. 30 All, that is, except the Pharisees and teachers of Moses' Law. They rejected God's plan for them and refused John's baptism. (The Living Bible--Paraphrased)

    When men today claim that Christian water baptism is either not essential to salvation or they outright refused to be immersed in water, are they rejecting God's counsel? Are they rejecting God's required for forgiveness of their sins?

    Mark 1:4 John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.(NKJV)

    Why do men believe that John the Baptist baptized in water for the remission of sins and then disbelieve the apostle Peter when he told the three thousands, (Who were baptized under the New Covenant) to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins? (Acts 2:38)

    Matthew 3:7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee the wrath to come.(NKJV)

    John the baptist said men have to be baptized to escape the wrath of God. Men today say Christian baptism is simply a way to demonstrate their faith.

    Why do men believe what God said about the baptism of John and rejected what God said about New Covenant baptism.


    1. Mark 16:16 ....and is baptized will be saved...(NKJV)

    2. Acts baptized...for the remission of sin...(NKJV)

    3. Acts 22:16...Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins...(NKJV)

    4. 1 Peter 3:21 ..which now saves us, namely baptism..(NKJV)

    5. Galatians 3:27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (NKJV)

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