Saturday, January 11, 2014

Feast of the Baptism of Jesus--A Reflection

 While the commercial world took down the lights and started getting ready for Valentine's Day on December 26, the Church continues to explore the depths of the wonderful mystery of the Incarnation. Last week we celebrated the Epiphany, the revelation of Jesus the light of the world to the magi, representatives of the Gentile world. 

  This Sunday we have another celebration of Jesus being revealed as Son of God as we recall His baptism by John in the Jordan River. This year's Gospel account is taken from Matthew's rendition of that wonderful moment. (See Mt. 3:13-17) I suppose it is natural to ask why was Jesus baptized in a baptism of repentance being that Jesus is the sinless one who has no need of repentance.After all John the Baptist himself asks the same question.

  There are several answers to that question.  Some Scripture scholars tell us that in order for Him to be the High Priest of the New Covenant He had had to fulfill the requirements of being a priest of the Old Covenant which required cleansing with water. This is part of Jesus' response that it was to fulfill all righteousness.  The descending of the dove (Holy Spirit) over the waters  with the words from the heavens, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased," represents a revelation of God as Trinity, but also it points to creation beginning anew in Jesus.  Remember that at the beginning of Genesis a might wind sweeps over the waters.  Now it is the breath of the Spirit.

   In addition to the theological richness of all of the above references there is also the belief, going back to early Christianity, that Jesus was baptized because, though sinless, He wanted to identify with sinners.

   In light of where Pope Francis is trying to lead us I think that this last point is important.  Pope Francis has been misunderstood or misinterpreted by those who want to fir him into their own agendas. What he is trying to do is what Jesus did during his earthly ministry.  He hung around with tax collectors and prostitutes not to condone their behavior but because He understood that their conversion could best be brought about by love, mercy, compassion and forgiveness. Though He was the Son of God He journeyed with them as a fellow human rather than standing above them.

   As was the case in Jesus' time many are uncomfortable with that. Many think that unless the point and wag fingers they are not getting the job done.  I think that it is an act of faith to trust that if something was the way of Jesus that it will work for us.

   While I don't pretend to present myself as the perfect model for all of this I will say that some of the most rewarding moments in my life as a friar and as a priest have come from witnessing the mercy of God touching the lives of drug addicts, prostitutes, sex addicts and various kinds of thieves and turning them into saints.  Unlike Jesus we are all sinners.  Saying that I am a sinner but my sin as not as bad as yours is probably one of the biggest pitfalls that stands in the way of our simply walking with everyone as a sister or brother on the journey towards God, not to mention that it shows a great deal of self-righteousness.

   As we celebrate Jesus' baptism in the Jordan let us rejoice in the fact that we are beside Him in those waters.

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