Sunday Sermon for January 12, 2014, the Baptism of the Lord, Year A
Readings: Is 42:1-4, 6-7; Acts 10:34-38; Mt 3:13-17
In the second reading today St. Peter speaks of the public ministry of Jesus as beginning in Galilee after the baptism John preached. So, the baptism our Lord accepted from St. John the Baptist marked the beginning of His public life. We must always recall that Jesus did not need to be baptized with John’s baptism because He had no sins that needed to be forgiven.
Even St. John the Baptist recognized this and told our Lord that he should be baptized by Jesus rather than our Lord being baptized by John. Our Lord’s response to the Baptist’s objection is of great importance for us to understand why He wanted to be baptized: to fulfill all righteousness.
It is not that our Lord needed to be made righteous; He is righteousness itself. Rather, in order to fulfill the will of the Father, and in order to show to St. John the fulfillment of what had been revealed to him, Jesus underwent this baptism. Recall that God had told the Saint that he would see the Holy Spirit descend upon the Chosen One like a dove. As Jesus came up from the water, St. John heard the voice of the Father and saw the Holy Spirit descend upon our Lord, thus he knew with certitude that this was the Anointed of the Lord.
In all of this we see the fulfillment of what we hear in the first reading about the meekness and gentleness of our Lord. But we also see the second half of the prophecy being fulfilled as well. He is the Covenant God makes with His people. The baptism, then, marks the beginning of founding of this new Covenant.
For the Jewish people the idea of ritual purity was of extreme importance. If there was any kind of ritual impurity, the people would go into a mikvah, a pool of water into which they would submerge themselves and come out clean or purified. Essentially, it was a ritual cleansing. The fact that our Lord did not go to a mikvah but came to John the Baptist instead demonstrates that there is something new, something similar and yet completely different that is taking place. It is, to be sure, founded on the revelation to the Jews, but it would fulfill and, in fact, supersede the Old Covenant.
The words of St. Peter, as he continues to describe what God had been doing is Israel at that time is also quite important for us in this context. He speaks of the word that God sent to the Israelites as He proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ. The word of God as it was written down and proclaimed to the Hebrew people was all truth, but without being the fullness of truth is could not bring complete and total peace. Jesus is Truth and in Him we are able to find the peace we so ardently desire.
This peace is not an exterior peace; rather, it is an interior peace. The external peace will naturally follow if we are at peace with God, with others and within our own selves. But this interior peace must be present first. This is not a peace that we can create within ourselves; it is a peace that flows from our union with Jesus. This union necessarily implies that we will be striving to do the will of God in our lives, that we will be praying, and that we will be living moral and upright lives.
If we consider our own baptism, this is really what we promised to the Lord that we would do. St. James addresses the question of the conflicts that arise among us and tells us that it is because of our selfishness. Only when we are humble and charitable will we be able to be without conflict. We have had the privilege of seeing that firsthand in people like Mother Teresa of Calcutta. There may have been people who had conflicts with her, but she remained at peace and had no conflict with them.
This does not mean that we all have to be out caring for the poorest of the poor, but that we are trying to remain united with God’s will in our own state in life. If we can do this, our Lord’s words, while meant for a different purpose, will be able to be said of us: all righteousness will be fulfilled. It is in our baptism that we entered into the Covenant that fulfills are righteousness, so it makes sense that the peace which flows from the Righteous One will be ours if we are earnestly striving to live in accordance with that Covenant. As it was with our Lord, our baptism marks a new beginning, the beginning of righteousness. Now we have only to live it.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.