Homily for the Baptism of the Lord

Year B - Mk. 1:6-11


by

Father Daniel Meynen
 
 

"Now John was clothed with camel's hair, and had a leather girdle around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, 'After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.'


"In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, 'Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.'"





Homily:


"Now John was clothed with camel's hair, and had a leather girdle around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, 'After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.'"


As the season of Christmas and Epiphany comes to a close, before the beginning of what is called Ordinary Time, the Church presents us with an episode from the life of the Lord to contemplate: his baptism by John the Baptist. This Sunday's gospel is taken from Saint Mark. The narration of the baptism of Jesus is very short in Saint Mark: as usual, he summarizes. We will find ampler versions of this passage in Saint Matthew (Mt. 3:13-17) and Saint John (1:29-34).


Saint Luke (Lk. 3:21-23) is not more prolix than Saint Mark, but he provides us with a testimony, preserved by Tradition ever since, which says that Jesus was baptized when he reached the age of thirty: "Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age." (Lk. 3:23). What else could

be the signification of the baptism of the Lord, if not the inauguration and beginning of his public life? Of sins against God he had none, since he is God. Of sins against the Law he also had none, since he himself was the auther of the Law of Moses.


Saint Matthew relates the following dialogue between Jesus and John the Baptist: "Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, 'I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?'" (Mt. 3:13-14) This is indeed a great paradox: this is where the old Law and the new Law meet; and, in order to be born and see the light of day, the new Law must submit itself to the old Law. For if Jesus inaugurates his public life on this day, it is precisely so that he would one day end his life in ignominy, under the condemnation pronounced by the official representatives of the old Law, who will appear to be victorious, but only until the day of the Resurrection.


If the baptism of the Lord is the figure of our own baptism, it is not because baptism cleanses us of original sin, since this is something Jesus didn't have; nor is it because baptism gives us the beginnings of eternal life, since Jesus already had this in fullness; but rather because, like Jesus, baptism places us on the royal road of the Holy Cross, the road which Jesus was the first to walk and which he covered with his own redeeming Blood. Saint Paul wrote to the Romans, "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." (Rm. 6:3-4)


The new life which baptism gives us is life in the Spirit: "I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." The Spirit who sanctifies and who is the "giver of life" (Credo) is also he who animates our life in order that we might follow Jesus as he suffers and dies on the Cross of Calvary, for it was "through the eternal Spirit" that "Christ ... offered himself without blemish to God." (Hb. 9:14) Baptized in the Spirit, all of us are called to die and rise again in the Spirit!


"In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, 'Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.'"


"Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased." These were the words the Father spoke at the baptism of the Lord! We can now understand a little better the importance of those words at such a moment in the life of Jesus: as he was beginning his public life, he needed some support, he needed powerful encouragement in order for him to go resolutely toward the Cross that awaited him at the end of his journey. These words of the Father are truly addressed to us as well: "Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased." Of course, we are but adoptive sons of the Father, but the Love of God is infinite, no matter who is the object of this Love. We are loved by God, by the Father, by all of the Most Holy Trinity: this is our strength, this is our power - the very power of God - which helps us to follow Christ, who died and rose again for us!


When Jesus heard these words of his Father, he was looking up at the heavens: "And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened..." Already, he was looking beyond the Passion and the Resurrection... Already, Jesus contemplated that unparalleled instant when he would rise up into Heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father... Already, too, he saw humanity's last Day, when he would come down from Heaven just as he had risen (cf. Ac. 1:11), in order to reward the just and punish the guilty... Jesus saw Heaven for us... He gave us the example that we should follow: we must look toward Heaven, that Heaven where we will never be bored, but where we will instead be fully occupied with loving: with loving the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!


May Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who has always followed her Son in his public life, even to the foot of the Cross, may Mary help us through her prayer! May our baptism lead us to eternal life in Heaven, for the Glory of the Most Holy Trinity, and for that of Mary, the Queen of Heaven and earth!