by Fr. Tommy Lane
Something new and big was happening – John the Baptist was baptizing in the Jordan all those who came to him. This was new and big because before now the only people who normally were baptized were Gentiles converting to become Jews. The baptism of Gentiles showed they were leaving behind their old Gentile way to life to live their new life as Jews. Their baptism meant a clear break with their past life to begin their new life as Jews. Previously only Gentiles becoming Jews were baptized but now the Jews themselves are being baptized by John. Even though they did not fully understand, they were preparing for the coming of Jesus by being baptizing in the Jordan. What was happening was extraordinary. It means Judaism is about to be overtaken by something new, Christianity. Christ will fulfill the expectations of Judaism; Christ will be the center of peoples’ lives, not the temple in Jerusalem.
Jesus too was baptized in the Jordan. He did not need John’s baptism. John’s baptism was a sign of repentance from sin (Luke 3:3). Since baptism was a sign of repentance from sin, the Gospel writers found different ways of dealing with the difficulty that Jesus’ baptism caused. Why would sinless Jesus be baptized when baptism was a sign of repentance from sin? In Matthew’s Gospel John the Baptist objects to baptizing Jesus but Jesus insists (Matt 3:14-15). Pope Benedict in Jesus of Nazareth explains that Jesus was taking our sins down into the Jordan so his baptism and cross go together. In Luke’s Gospel which we just heard, Luke gets around the difficulty of Jesus’ baptism in a different way by simply saying Jesus had been baptized without actually saying John baptized him. While Jesus didn’t need baptism we certainly do need baptism. When we were baptized we received the Spirit that Jesus also received. After Jesus was baptized the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. John the Baptist said he himself baptized only with water but Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. That baptism with the Spirit and fire took place at Pentecost when Jesus in heaven poured out the Spirit on the apostles and the others in the form of tongues of fire (Acts 2:33). We receive the Spirit first at baptism and a greater share in the Spirit at Confirmation. So the Spirit which came on Jesus at his baptism is given to us also when we are baptized. Jesus didn’t need baptism but wanted to be baptized because baptism would be the way in which we would begin to share in his life in communion with his Father through the Spirit. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel we hear Jesus commanding the apostles to baptize all nations (Matt 28:19). Everything we do in the Church is done because of Jesus and we are baptized because Jesus was baptized and commanded the apostles to baptize all nations.
In the Gospel today (Year C: Luke 3:15-16, 21-22) we see something else we do because of Jesus. Luke tells us Jesus was praying after his baptism (Luke 3:21). We pray because Jesus prayed and taught us to pray. Luke emphasizes in his Gospel that Jesus prayed because he tells us on many occasions that Jesus prayed. Only Luke tells us as we heard today that Jesus was praying after his baptism (3:21). After the cure of the leper Jesus went to the desert to pray and Luke’s Greek makes it clearer than Mark that it was Jesus’ custom to pray there (5:16). Only Luke tells us that Jesus spent all night praying before the chose the Twelve Apostles, showing us that the choice of the Twelve has come from the Father (6:12-16). Only Luke tells us that Jesus’ was transfigured while he prayed (9:28-29). These are just some of many instances where we see Jesus praying in Luke. Whatever we do in the Church we do because of Jesus and so Luke shows us the early Church in Acts as a Church that prayed; they prayed waiting for Pentecost (Acts 1:14), they prayed when choosing Judas’ replacement (Acts 1:24) and on many other occasions. Jesus prayed and so the Church prayed and we pray.
Jesus was baptized and we are baptized. Jesus prayed and we pray. Something big was happening in the Jordan and something big happened in our lives when we were baptized. We were completely different afterwards, sharing in God’s divine life. What a beautiful way to live. Prayer enables us to continue to experience the benefits of our baptism. There are a number of secular studies now showing that prayer is good for you. That is no surprise because when we pray we come into the presence of God. It is obvious that prayer would be good for every part of our being. There is a different way to live; not living with the benefits of our baptism. That is a sad way to life. How could one be truly happy living that way? It is difficult to understand politicians in Europe or here who say they are Catholic but want what is immoral and contradicts our faith. How can you live with the life of Jesus in you since baptism and at the same time want something that would kill the life of Jesus? It doesn’t add up. Something is missing in the story. Living with the life of Jesus since baptism, strengthened through daily prayer, is the most beautiful way to life. May I encourage you to once again consider the importance of daily prayer in your life, and it at all possible to pray together as a family? We do not pray enough. Can you pray more? Jesus is waiting for you to spend time with him in prayer. As you spend time with Jesus in prayer you will receive his life and blessings. You will be different and have his love, life and peace in you. Who would not want that?
Jesus prayed and we pray. Jesus was baptized and we are baptized. Something big happed at the Jordan and something big happened in our lives when we were baptized. When we pray we continue to experience the benefits of our baptism. John said, “…one mightier than I is coming…He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:16)
Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013
More homilies for the First Sunday - Baptism of Our Lord
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