CACINA

Homily for the Baptism of the Lord, Year A 2013-14

Posted in christian, Christianity, church events, ecclesiology, ethics, inspirational, religion by Fr. Ron Stephens on January 5, 2014

Homily for the Baptism of the Lord, Year A  2013-14

[Bishop Ron’s complete homilies for the last Year A are published in a book entitled “Teaching the Church Year”, available as an ebook at amazon.com]

Poetry is not too popular today.  I think this is because poetry is compressed language, full of double meanings, metaphors and other figures of speech which take time to decipher. One must meditate over poetry, and people today don’t seem to have the time to do that. The result is ‘tweeting’ which is short and to the point, and is seldom metaphoric or symbolic but simply says what it means.

I think this is why we have so much more trouble listening to the Hebrew Testament prophetic readings which are so heavy in meaning, strong in imagery, foreign in culture and often, seemingly mysterious in meaning and reference. Today’s reading from Isaiah is a good example, in fact.

“Thus says the Lord: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold…” (Is 42:1) So starts the reading today. Who is this servant? The servant is never named. Hebrew scholars think it may refer to Israel the nation. Others argue that it is a king being predicted. With other things Isaiah has written, many call this the “suffering servant”. It all seems very vague. The Catholic Church has always seen this “servant”, however, as a prophecy of Jesus, and by identifying the ‘servant’ in this way, we can read into this passage a great deal, and make a lot of sense out of it. It has been chosen on this feast of the Baptism of the Lord because it rightly prophesies of this servant who is a teacher and has the spirit of God, who is gentle, who is faithful and just, who doesn’t give up and who ‘is’ a covenant for the people. Does sound a lot like the life of Jesus, doesn’t it!  It even goes on to say that he will be a light to the nations, again opening up the Hebrew religion to all nations, and that he will give sight tot he blind and let prisoner’s free. The description of the prisoners given, sitting in darkness could be a reference to Jesus, immediately after his death,  opening up heaven to all those imprisoned in the Old Covenant.

The poetic prophecies of Isaiah mean so much more when we have something or someone to apply them to. When we read them with this new insight, as the Church does, their meaning becomes so much clearer, and yet still retains the beautiful poetry and symbolism – like light versus darkness, not snuffing out candlewicks, not breaking reeds, and so on.

The rest of the readings today all use the images of water and baptism as this is the feast we are celebrating. The Psalm begins this imagery with the Lord’s voice stirring the waters – the waters of creation, and God as Lord enthroned above the waters. In the Acts of the Apostles, our second reading, St. Peter is preaching and his theme seems to be that Jesus is the Lord of all – that any person of any nation is acceptable to God. He explains that this all began after John the Baptist’s announcement of God’s anointing of Jesus, and being “with” Jesus.

When we move to the Gospel we jump into Matthew’s description of the actual scene of the baptism. We can explain , first of all, that Matthew seems to be carefully editing the same story told by St. Mark. The problem was a theological one. If John were baptizing for the repentance of sins, does that mean that Jesus was a sinner that needed baptism as well. Mark’s Gospel does not answer that question, so Matthew , a few years later, tries to.  In Matthew’s version, John does not want to baptize Jesus, doesn’t see the need for it, and in fact, thinks that Jesus should be baptizing him. Jesus reply to John is “Let is be so for now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”

This sentence has been studied and debated for many years – but I think I can summarize many opinions by saying that Jesus, as a man, needed to go through the requirements that he wanted every religious man to go through. For example, he didn’t need circumcision, but he was circumcised, he didn’t need to go through the purity rituals when he entered a home, but he did. He wanted to live the life that he thought we should be living. and baptism was one of the things that he wanted us to go through. He wanted to be an example or a role model of what a human being was meant to be.

The result of that Baptism was the sound of the Lord God’s voice telling us that he was well pleased with the way his Son was conducting himself as a man. “This my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt 3:17)

What this can mean for us is this week is that we can and should look to the life of Jesus as examples of how to lead the perfect life we are called to live. We are not sinless, like Jesus, but we can aim to live our lives using him as our model. And those things that Isaiah names as descriptive of the suffering servant, the description well-befitting Jesus, can give us types and patterns of behavior that we can strive to emulate. Let me review them again: we must be teachers and healers, bringing God’s message to all; we must be humble servants, putting God’s will before our own; we must be gentle in our dealings with others, non-judgmental and supportive; we must be faithful to God and his Word, we must fight for justice in the world, to do what we can to even the playing field for all people. And from the Gospel today, we must be righteous – that is, we must abide by the just laws of our church and state, living out our lives as men and women to the best of our abilities. This is the summary of a saint, a Jesus, a perfect life. Can we all achieve this? probably not.  Can we all aim for it? Yes!

Think of it as a map with a very clear “way” laid out. It is not poetry, somewhat difficult to understand. We only need to look to Jesus and see what we have to do.

This is why we begin our regular Church year with this feast which lays out the Good News of the path we must follow in life.

Bishop Ron Stephens

Auxiliary Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese

of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

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