Homily for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Year C 2019
Imagine a father who has a son Tom. He sincerely loves Tom, and he looks out for Tom. He has gone out of his way to demonstrate to Tom how much he loves him. But Tom doesn’t seem to appreciate his father’s love. Tom has consistently proven to his father that he doesn’t need him. In fact, Tom has rejected his father. He has treated him with deep seated hatred and contempt.
Tom, in a way, represents me and you. He represents the children of Israel prior to the coming of Christ, at the time of Christ and thereafter. He represents humanity’s attitude towards God. He represents the human person struggling with the condition of original sin, a sin which arises from a deep distrust of God. A sin of “self-love to the point of contempt for God”. It is a sin that cries out, “I don’t need God. I don’t need His laws. I can do it all by myself”.
The prophet Isaiah knew this condition too well. He knew that the consequences of original sin or any other sin aren’t just spiritual; they also have socio-political and economic implications. For the love of self when it is devoid of the love of God makes us less who we are. Thus, creating a valley in us; the valley of our distance from God, which St. Augustine defines as evil. It is the valley of darkness, the emptiness of our true identity, origin, meaning and purpose.
This valley is surrounded by the mountain of humanity’s pride. A condition that inflates our ego to the extent that we don’t recognise our emptiness anymore. This is the most dangerous plague of our contemporary society. It leaves us with the illusion that we are free. Meanwhile, we are everywhere in chains. This isn’t only typical of our times. The Israelites were no different. Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11 exhorts, “Let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill be laid low”.
How? By one who is humble enough to love God to the point of contempt of self. One “Who, though being divine in nature, He did not claim equality with God, but emptied Himself, taking on a nature of a servant, and being born in the likeness men became obedient unto death, even death on the cross” (Philippians 2:6-8). That is, the One who is sinless took on Himself our sins and entered our reality in order to reveal our true identity – sons and daughters of God.
By this one single act, Christ filled our emptiness with His presence. He revealed we are from God, loved by Him from all eternity and destined for love, for God. This is the meaning of our existence. This is our purpose. So, Christ’s baptism is a bold statement of God’s love. It is God loving us despite our attitude of contempt. It is God taking the initiative to show us how to live.
It is God redeeming us. Redemption here comes from the Latin word redimere, which means to regain. He is regaining our trust and also availing us the opportunity to regain His trust. For at the baptism of His Son, the Father spoke, not words of condemnation, but words of love, words that affirmed us in Christ Jesus, “You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you”.
Thus, the effects of the baptism of the Lord reveals the effects of our own baptism. The Father declares Him to be His beloved Son, He also declares us to be His beloved sons and daughters. The Spirit descended on Him, just as the Spirit descended on us in our baptism, breathing into us the new life, the life of the Mystical Body of Christ. For baptism makes us members of His Body.
Notice the language used here – the Mystical Body of Christ. Not a mere institution nor a club as many would expect us to be, but a living Body with Christ as the Head and we the members. It is only natural that the members of a body follow where the head leads. So, it is expected of us the baptised to follow where Christ our Head is leading us. But to follow, we have to be one with the Head. We have to listen to Him. We have to depend on Him. We have to trust Him.
This is the responsibility of our baptism. It is the responsibility that regains what we have lost through pride and disobedience. It is the responsibility that enables us to experience what Paul spoke about in his letter to Titus 2:1-14,3:4-7, “God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race and taught us that what we have to do is to give up everything that doesn’t lead to God…” It is a responsibility that frees us to live for God.
Freedom here isn’t libertinism. It isn’t freedom to do what we like and when we like. It is freedom from all that holds us back from loving God. It is freedom that comes from our dependence on God. It is the freedom for God. Thus, baptism frees us from original and actual sins so that we can be free to be children of God and members of His Mystical Body, the Church. Until we experience this freedom, we can’t truly live out the Christian life with joy.
So, as we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, let’s acknowledge the many times we have been preoccupied with ourselves to the point of rejecting God, His counsels and His laws. Let’s remember our baptism promises and take up our responsibilities. Finally, let’s give up everything that doesn’t lead us to God so that we can be free for God and experience the freedom of being sons and daughters of God. Happy Feast Day of the Baptism of the Lord!
Fr. Francis Afu