Homily: The Baptism of the Lord

The Baptism of Jesus (Year B) (go to readings)
Isaiah 55:1-11
(Responsorial) Isaiah 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6
1 John 5:1-9
Mark 1:7-11

The best way to start this, I think, is to ask the question most people ask: Why would Jesus go to get baptized, if he had never sinned? I hope that by the end of this, you’ll have a good answer to that question. Now, you can take the snarky approach, and answer the question with, “For the same reason that Jesus went to get crucified, although he had never sinned.” That touches upon the real answer to the question, so we’re going to look at this close connection between the Baptism and the Crucifixion.

In God’s revelation of himself as the Holy Trinity, God the Father is the source of all being, all that is life, all that is good, true, and beautiful. God the Son is the communication, the logos, the expression, the Word, of God, to everything outside of God. Every outward expression of God is an interaction with the Son, an act of, or through, the Son. It is through the Son that the angels and the heavenly host and our material world is created; it is through the Son that God reveals himself in the world, most especially to humanity. God the Holy Spirit then is the enduring presence of God that sustains everything. It is by the Holy Spirit that the heavenly host exists and praises God; it is by the Holy Spirit that the logic and order and being of all creation is sustained; it is the Holy Spirit that breathed into Adam, giving us not just natural life, but particularly human spiritual life, that enables us to be persons oriented toward communion. That is why it was not good for Adam to be alone, and God created Eve for them to be in communion, in a particular relationship only available to those with a spirit.  

In the fall of humanity in Adam and Eve, our spirits were distorted from their original likeness; we lost our communion with God, we wounded our relationship with each other, and even within ourselves. In losing our relationship with God because of sin (although God never stopped loving us), we are unable to be in the presence of God, the infinite furnace of divine love. It would burn us up. And since our souls are immortal, we would not die, we would be burning for eternity, which is far from the eternity of peace and communion that God wants for us. And so heaven, God’s presence, is unavailable to us. We cannot reconcile with God by our own power. Humanity created a barrier, from our side of the relationship, which we cannot tear down.

And so God began the long process of preparing humanity for his gift of reconciliation. In the fullness of time, with the consent and cooperation of the Blessed Virgin Mother Mary, the Word of God, God the Son, entered into our fallen human nature, fully retaining his infinite divine nature.

His mission was to tear down the barrier from the human side of the relationship between humanity and divinity. Only in his divinity did he have the infinite power to do so, so only the infinite God in his perfect mercy and love for us could do this. He didn’t have to do this; this was his free choice, made in love.

When Jesus, humanity and divinity united in one person, reached the fullness of his maturity, which at the time was believed to be about 30 years old, he began his earthly ministry, his divine mission, to tear down the barrier, and to bring humanity back into common union, communion, with God the Father, that we may have the way of eternal life restored to us. Jesus entered into this act of baptism, being washed in the waters of the Jordan River, the river that Israel had crossed to complete their exodus and enter into the Promised Land. From that point forward, Jesus was guided by the Holy Spirit, in union with the Father, for they are all one, and began collected into his humanity all the sin, death, suffering, illness, and burdens of fallen humanity.

As he neared the completion of his mission, he gave his disciples, who were the foundation stones of the Church that would continue his presence and mission on earth, the way by which they could forever re-enter into and renew their participation in the covenant of his saving act of self-sacrifice: the Holy Eucharist.

In the final act of his humanity, in the moments of his death, he says, “It is finished,” or in the Latin, “Consummatum est,” it is consummated. In this act, all the sin that separated us from God was itself put to death. The Son of God had consummated his mission that began with his baptism. The Word achieved the mission for which it was sent.

For just as from the heavens
  the rain and snow come down
And do not return there
  till they have watered the earth,
  making it fertile and fruitful,
Giving seed to him who sows
  and bread to him who eats,  
So shall my word be
  that goes forth from my mouth;
It shall not return to me void,
  but shall do my will,
  achieving the end for which I sent it.

(Isa 55:10-11)

In the Gospel of Mark, he only combines the words “torn” and “Son” in two places: when the heavens were torn open at his baptism, as the voice proclaimed to Jesus that “You are my Son in whom I am well pleased”; and at his crucifixion, when the temple veil was torn down the middle, and the Roman centurion proclaimed, “Truly, this was the Son of God.” The Temple veil was blue and embroidered with the constellations, representing the heavens, and it veiled the entrance to the Holy of Holies, the place of the Ark of the Covenant, the place of God’s presence. In the consummation of his mission, God the Son, the Word in our humanity, tore the veil that separates us from God. He paid the price and reconciled us, as only he, in his great mercy and power, could do for us.

I myself have installed my king
on Zion, my holy mountain.
I will proclaim the decree of the LORD,
he said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you.
Ask it of me, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance,
and, as your possession, the ends of the earth.

Psalm 2:6-8

Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased.
Upon him I have put my spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench.
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant for the people,
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.

Isa 42:1, 3, 6-7

When Jesus’ side was pierced with a lance, water and blood flowed out. Water was the sign of baptism; blood the sign of the crucifixion. Jesus had asked James and John, “Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mk 10:58). The Holy Spirit unites these events and fills them with divine life, and communicates that life to us. “And no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3).

This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ,
not by water alone, but by water and blood.
The Spirit is the one who testifies,
and the Spirit is truth.
So there are three that testify,
the Spirit, the water, and the blood,
and the three are of one accord.

If we accept human testimony,
the testimony of God is surely greater.
Now the testimony of God is this,
that he has testified on behalf of his Son.

1st John 5:6-12

Then, in his glorious resurrection, Jesus shows us the restoration of human life free of the burden and despair of sin. He reveals human life in glory, in reconciliation and communion with God, God the Holy Spirit joyfully and beautifully infused into human nature and filling humanity with divine life, which is grace.

In this victory, in this reconciliation, he invites all humanity to follow him through this journey on which he has led the way, the first fruit of the resurrection. And our first step on this journey to follow him is our baptism.

Heed me, and you shall eat well,
  you shall delight in rich fare.  
Come to me heedfully, listen,
  that you may have life.
Let the scoundrel forsake his way,
  and the wicked man his thoughts;
Let him turn to the LORD for mercy;
  to our God, who is generous in forgiving.  

Isa 55:2-3, 7

In this way we know that we love the children of God
when we love God and obey his commandments.
For the love of God is this,
that we keep his commandments.

1st John 5:2-3

In our baptism, we enter into the mystery of his baptism, which points toward, and is empowered with, the mystery of his death and resurrection. We enter into the tomb of baptism. We die to our sin, our old way of life, our fallen human nature full of sin and despair, just as he was laid in the tomb, having borne the cost of our sin. And in the same moment, we rise from the baptismal water, filled with his victory, his freedom from sin, his divine life in us, reconciled to God through him. We become members of his mystical body, as we embrace his life in us.

Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection.

Rom 5:3-5

The muddy waters of the Jordan River are infused with the waters of the river of life that flow from the wellspring of divine love, and flow through the heavenly city of God. And we are washed clean in this supernatural water, and united with the heavenly communion and Holy Trinity in eternal life, which we possess and live in faith even in this world.

With joy you will draw water
at the fountain of salvation.

Isa 12:3

Without baptism, we would still be stuck in our sin, without hope, without salvation. Of course, God can do what he wills, and we can always hope that those who are not baptized, by no fault of their own, might be saved. But this is what he has revealed to us for our life, and it would be foolish not to listen to him. But even those who are not themselves baptized, any hope they may have they have through the mystery of Jesus’ mission of reconciliation.

So, why would Jesus go to get baptized, if he had never sinned? Because by entering into his baptism, he gives us our entrance into his death to sin and its consequences, and our rebirth to the life of grace and reconciliation with God, so that we may enter into our earthly mission to witness to Jesus as the Son of God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and our life in His Church, for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.