9 January 2022 at St Elizabeth Church in Naples, FL and to Notre Dame Alumni Mass in Naples, FL
Isaiah 42, 1-4, 6-7 + Psalm 29 + Acts 10, 34-38 + Luke 3, 15-16, 21-22
The Baptism of Jesus ought to raise some questions in our minds about what was going on and what it was all about. It certainly cannot suggest that Jesus needed to be baptized because he was sinful. There is no reason to think, at the same time, that he was becoming one of John’s disciples by that act. This event that Luke reports calls us to listen carefully to the prophet we just heard proclaimed here, and to the voice from heaven that was heard that day. At the same time, this event is a challenge to think more deeply about our own Baptism and what it means in relation to the Baptism of Jesus.
For Jesus and anyone present at that moment as well as anyone who hears this Gospel, there is the Divine approval of the mission Jesus would take up. That moment identified him as the one Isaiah foretold. The voice affirms that what Christ was about to do, the kind of life he was about to show us was right, that it was pleasing to the Father, and it would work even when it did not seem so. From that moment on, power would have little to do with the ability to keep one in control, to overcome one’s enemies, or to eliminate one’s problems. Now power would be the ability to live without control of everything, to be kind to one’s enemies, and patient with problems. Now, success would have nothing to do with how well one is regarded by others or served by others. For now it would be a matter of how well one serves others. From that moment on, love would have nothing to do with how someone makes us feel. Now love is about bearing one another’s burden rather than inflicting burdens on others.
And what about our Baptism? Surely, the Baptism of Jesus has something to say about all Baptisms. Instead of being focused on “original sin”, perhaps Baptism is about being claimed for Christ our Savior by the cross traced on our foreheads in that ancient ritual. Perhaps, being Baptized into Christ and putting on Christ with a that white garment might actually mean that the Father is pleased with us and what we shall become. The mission of his chosen one, the one loved by the Father begins on that day, and this day comes to remind and affirm that the mission of Jesus Christ is our mission as well.
Sometimes, I hear people say that the church is no longer capturing the hearts of young people. Perhaps you have felt the same way, and I have shared that thought on occasion. It might be that because we are not speaking the truth often enough, not repeating the message that every person needs to hear again and again: “You are my beloved; with you God is well pleased.” Perhaps it is because something else has taken the place of the mission of Jesus, but whatever it is has failed. Isaiah reminds us today that the mission is to bring Justice, which in God’s mind does not mean that everyone gets what they deserve. Thank goodness, or we would be in sorry shape. It means that those who know themselves to be favored by God even though it is undeserved, have been empowered by the Spirit to be light, to speak the truth, and be compassionate to those who feel like a “bruised reed” fanning into flames the spark of God’s love wherever a smoldering wick is found.