Homily on the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus 2014
One of the great privileges of being a priest is to witness two people in love who have decided to celebrate that love in the context of marriage in the Church. It always fascinates me to see a particular man and a particular woman from among many out there who have ‘fallen’ in love and wanted to live in that love together, despite differences in personalities, expectations and at times in age even. ‘Age doesn’t matter’ when it comes to love, has become a common cliché. It is so because ‘love is blind’ as we sometimes say or ‘love conquers all’, as I always realize every time I officiate weddings. It is just an amazing thing to see what love can do despite everything, despite apparent barriers and despite possible obstacles.
Once, I was talking to someone who is certainly in love with a woman, a widow, aged almost double his age and has children to rear. He was concerned about what people think or say about their relationship. So I said to him: ‘Stand up for your love. Show to all that your love to each other is sincere. Don’t be bothered by what people say or think of you. Whatever they think or say of you two is none of your business.’
You might wonder why am I talking about love and marriage here when we are celebrating today the feast of the baptism of the Lord. Well, I just want to illustrate a point that LOVE can do great and unthinkable things. ‘Love conquers all indeed and it is willing to break through any barrier.’
And this is really evident in the episode in our gospel today of Jesus’s baptism by John. See John’s baptism was for the repentance and remission of sins, that’s why John had expressed a bit of reluctance in baptising Jesus. ‘It is I who need baptism from you,’ he said to Jesus. ‘and yet you come to me.’ Jesus had no sin, so He doesn’t have to be baptised. Yet, echoing the kid’s question last Sunday when I baptised his younger sister: ‘Why did you that to her?’, we can also ask Jesus why would he go for baptism when he has no sins at all and thus he needs no repentance?
Why would Jesus dare to do so?
Because that’s how serious God’s love is for us that he would take the risk of identifying with our human condition, even willing more to be associated with our sinfulness. This is how seriously in love He is that He humbled himself and be baptised. He wills to do this to show us that He is serious of his mission to save us from sins by identifying in a special and intimate way with our sinful condition not by sinning but by identifying with our sinful condition in an more intimate, personal and mysterious manner.
Hippolytus of Rome, one of the Early Church Fathers, has put the significance of Jesus’ baptism most beautifully. He wrote: ‘If the Lord had yielded to John’s persuasion and had not been baptized, do you realize what great blessings and how many we should have been deprived of? Heaven was closed after then; our homeland on high was inaccessible. Once we had descended into the depths we were incapable of rising again to such lofty heights. The Lord was not only baptized himself; he also renewed our fallen nature and restored to us our status as God’s children. At once the heavens were opened to him. The world we see was reconciled with the world that lies beyond our vision; the angels were filled with joy; earthly disorders were remedied; mysteries were revealed; enemies were made friends.’
Because of his love for us, God is willing to take the extra mile, the extra burden, the extra cost, and even the whole cost of our sinfulness, by the words and by the works of Jesus Christ.
However, God’s love is not meant to be a one-way traffic. Jesus himself would stress this when he was asked about which is the greatest of the commandments, he said: ‘And you shall love the lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ [Mk 12:30] This is an invitation for us to respond to God’s love, to love God back so as to establish that real, personal and intimate relationship with Him.
And the Good News is that through Jesus and by learning from him, we can love God back. For this love to develop and grow, we just need to listen to Jesus– the Beloved Son, whom God favour rests. [cf Mt 3:17]
Listening to God’s Beloved Son means opening our minds and our hearts, and all our senses to the presence and the workings of God in our lives, in our experiences, in the events in the world. This also means giving back to God his favourite space in our lives- our hearts.
If we listen to Jesus today, we could hear his voice so strong – as a refugee calling for asylum, because their lives, livelihood and fundamental rights are threatened if not neglected and cast aside. Jesus’ voice is also very loud in the voice of the innocent civilians and children in Syria and in Central African Republic being caught in the middle of war, violence and conflict.
If we listen to Jesus we could hear God calling us now as his Beloved sons and daughters too. And this calls for a mission that we share this love to others, especially to those who haven’t heard of him, or haven’t felt loved at all, or being alone, or being desperate. And inspired by the words of the prophet Isaiah in our First Reading today (Is 42:1-4;6-7), we share God’s love to others tenderly, ‘by not breaking the crushed reed’ (i.e. not harsh, not rash, no arrogance or pride, and not for personal gain) and ‘not quenching the wavering flame’ (i.e. carefully not putting people off by imposing our own self and personal agenda, but by helping others rediscover the beauty of faith and the beauty of God.)
So as we continue our reflection on the baptism of Jesus, let us resolve to do something during the week that enables others to see and/or experience the love of God in and through us. It might just be a simple phone call to person we haven’t spoken for a while, or helping an old lady push her trolley of grocery in the supermarket, or visiting a person we know who is in the nursing home, or bringing your children as you do voluntary work at St Vinnies, or calling in at your neighbour living alone for a cuppa. By doing this and thousand other ways we are spreading the message that everyone is God’s beloved son and daughter too, and that as Peter would say in our Second Reading today: God has no favourites, and I would add, because we are all special and worth dying for in God’s eyes.
Let this be our reflection and a point for resolution. Amen.