Fr Dom's Homily
Year B 2021
Fr Dominic Orih
Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. One thing about the Baptism of the Lord is that it reminds us of our own baptism. We believe that Baptism is the foundation of our Christian faith. It is the first sacrament we receive that opens the door to every other sacrament. In baptism, we are drawn into the inner life of God as people who have been begotten through Jesus Christ as sons and daughters of God. In a way, we are dipped into something much bigger than our small selves.
The encounter of Jesus and John the Baptist at River Jordan in our Gospel today reveals a lot about baptism. It is something that is being done unto you. Jesus insists that John baptises him even when in the normal parlance, John the Baptist was considered lower than him. John’s baptism was considered the baptism of repentance which means that those who came to him were considered sinners. I would think that many people (including religious people) at that time would’ve stood from afar, looking at John the Baptist, an eccentric man wearing an animal skin as a cloth, shouting for people to repent of their sins and judging him as a crazy person who has lost his mind.
Now bearing that picture in mind, imagine Jesus whom people revered and followed, going to John the Baptist to be baptised by him. It sounds ordinary when we read it and we move on, but this was an extraordinary statement that Jesus was making. Jesus was validating John at that time and saying with his actions to listen to this man. Listen to this man John who, moved away from the synagogue and the Temple (the centre of religious worship at that time), to go to a different place everyone is invited, saints and sinners literally.
John was revolutionary. He was standing in the muddy waters of Jordan baptising people and calling people to a new way of being. One that is different to that which those in power (both state and religion) have ordered to be the way. John preaches against that way and opts for an alternative way of being in the world. Jesus walks into the muddy waters of Jordan, “shoulder to shoulder with sinners,” as Bishop Robert Barron puts it, and identifies with those society considers as sinners. That in itself levels the ground for everyone because all of us are sinners. No wonder Bishop Barron calls it “The God who enters our muddy waters.”
There is something at work here, God loves us even when we are sinners and thus journeys with us to save us from the power of sin. All of us, saints and sinners, are children of God and God desires our good in any situation. It makes sense now that in our Second Reading from the Acts of the Apostles that Peter would say to the household of Cornelius that God does not have any favourite and that anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God. God cares for our wellbeing and flourishing. Peter only realises that when he underwent his “baptism of fire” while he was resting. He had a trance where he was asked not to call anything God has made unclean. What happened after that was an invitation to go to the house of Cornelius, a gentile (one considered to be unclean in the Jewish tradition), and he baptised his whole household. Peter at that time became aware of a God who holds all of us in being without exception because we have been adopted through Jesus Christ our saviour.
Jesus carries the weight of our sinfulness, absorbs our human dysfunction upon himself to make us whole. No wonder when John saw him coming to receive baptism, he called him the lamb of God. A statement that would’ve been very familiar with the first century Jewish audience who have witnessed lambs being brought to the temple for sacrifice for the remission of sins. John called Jesus the lamb of God and said that he is not fit to undo the straps of his sandals. He said that Jesus is more powerful than he is and would baptise with the Holy Spirit as opposed to his own baptism of water. This is why John wanted to be baptised by Jesus. However, Jesus insisted to be baptised by John, not because he needs it (he is the son of God), but because Jesus wanted to submit himself to all the things that we humans have to submit to as Richard Rohr puts it. He identifies with us in our nature and thus goes down to the water of baptism and emerged to new life; a life where he knew what his life’s mission was all about and thus, he went about doing good.
It is fascinating that we rarely heard anything about Jesus before his baptism. But right after he rose from the waters of baptism to new life, the heavens opened and the Spirit descending like a dove rested upon him and a voice from heaven said, “You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.” It felt like at that time Jesus was validated by his Father and now he has Good News for the world. No wonder Peter said in our Second Reading that God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and power after his baptism and he went about doing good and curing all who had fallen into the power of the devil. In our First Reading, what Prophet Isaiah said becomes clear. It is Jesus that he refers to when he said, “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom my soul delights. I have endowed him with my spirit that he may bring true justice to the nations.” Jesus, at that time knew what his mission was about, and he went about doing good; which tells us that we need to realise that we are the beloved of God; and once we know that, then we have Good News for the world.
So, may your own baptism (of fire), remind you of your mission here on earth, and may you know that you are the beloved child of God and God’s favour rests upon you. You have Good News for the world, so go about doing good in the world.
And may God bless you!