Thursday, January 23, 2014

Homily for the Baptism of the Lord

Sed Aqua Quam Ego Dabo[1]

Homily for the Baptism of the Lord
January 12th, 2014

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Parish (Rosa Road)
Rev. Michael Taylor

Jesus answered [Nicodemus]: “Amen, Amen, I say to thee,
Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost,
He cannot enter into the kingdom of God.[2]

            The question is often asked, ‘why did Jesus come at the point of time in which he did? Why not earlier? Why not later? Why at that particular part of the world?’ And the reason for this is that God was telling a story, so that when the Son came into the world, the groundwork would already be completed, the prophesies in place, waiting to be fulfilled. It is for these reasons too that we need to look back into the Old Testament to understand what the baptism of the Lord meant for the people of his time as well as for us today. Both the element of water and the river Jordan have a long history for the people of Israel.
And the spirit of God moved over the waters...

            In Genesis, in the first creation narrative, we read, and the earth was void and empty, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God moved over the waters.[3] There was this idea that from water, order was created, a sense of balance established. This is a theme we find repeated throughout the scriptures. In flood story of Noah, we read that God has determined there is so much sin in the hearts of men that creation needs to be cleansed.[4] Yet after the flood, seeing the sacrifice of Noah, God promises that water will never be used to destroy all flesh again.[5] There is also a curious line in the narrative we would likely pass over though but which bears a second glance. The Lord, seeing the sacrifice of Noah, says, I will no more curse the earth for the sake of man: for the imagination and though of man’s heart are prone to evil from his youth…[6] This itself is a foreshadowing of our belief in Original Sin,[7] a reality that is conquered through the waters of Baptism.
            If one wishes to understand the Old Testament, one really must understand the exodus account of the people of Israel. This extends to the meaning of water. Moses, the great lawgiver, his very name means “the one taken from the water” [8] because his mother, in order to save his life, sent him down the river in a basket where he was discovered by a princess of Egypt and adopted as her own. The ten plagues began from the waters of the Nile [9] and indeed, so many of the critical interactions between Pharaoh and Moses take place around the waters of the river Nile. When the people of Israel were finally set free, the moved eastward and found themselves at the Red Sea. When they saw the armies of Egypt closing in behind them, they turned to Moses, saying: Perhaps there were no graves in Egypt, therefore thou hast brought us to die in the wilderness.[10] They were cheerful people. Moses told the people to trust in the Lord, and the Lord himself told Moses, Lift thou up thy rod, and stretch thy hand over the sea, and divide it; that the children of Israel may go through the midst of the sea on dry ground.[11]

Parting of the Red Sea from The Ten Commandments (1956) (1956)
If you haven't seen the Ten Commandments yet,
you should stop what you're doing, and go watch it…now.

            Yet no sooner are they across the sea then they begin to complain. They had just seen the Lord God of Israel complete the ten plagues upon the land of Egypt. They had just seen him part the Red Sea. And still they doubt God. They demand water. They are thirsty. This idea of thirst is a theme that plays throughout the Old Testament. Indeed it is their obstinacy that prevents Moses from entering into the promised land. We find it written, And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: "Take the rod, and assemble the people together, thou and Aaron thy brother, and speak to the rock before them, and it shall yield waters. And when thou hast brought forth water out of the rock, all the multitude and their cattle shall drink. Moses therefore took the rod, which was before the Lord, as he had commanded them, and having gathered together the multitude before the rock, he said to them: Hear, ye rebellious and incredulous: Can we bring you forth water out of this rock?" And when Moses had lifted up his hand, and struck the rock twice with the rod, there came forth water in great abundance, so that the people and their cattle drank, And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron: Because you have not believed me, to sanctify be before the children of Israel, you shall not bring these people into the land which I will give them. This is the water of contradiction, where the children of Israel strove with words against the Lord, and he was sanctified in them.[12] 

Moses….he's been there.

So there is water that satisfies thirst, yet not long term. We find the hope of eternally refreshing waters woven throughout the scriptures, such as in the Psalms where it is written O God, thou art my God, I see thee, my soul thirsts for thee, my flesh faints for thee, as in a dry and weary land where no water is [13] or in the Prophet Isaiah writes, concerning exile: Therefore my people go into exile for want of knowledge; their honored men are dying of hunger, and their multitude is parched with thirst.[14]
            When the people of Israel needed cleaning, according to the Levitic texts, they must enter themselves into water, bathing themselves from their iniquities.[15] Even before a priest could offer a sacrifice on behalf of other’s sins, he must lower himself into water in preparation for the sacrifice.[16] In the Psalms we see this idea carried on, when the David, in the midst of his sins, cries out to the Lord, thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow.[17] The prophet Ezekiel foretold a time when the people of Israel would be cleansed from their idolatry; And I [the Lord] will pour upon you clean water, and you shall be cleansed from all your filth, and I will cleanse you from all your idols. And I will give you a new heart, and put a new spirit within you; and I will take away your stony heart out of your flesh, and will give you a heart of flesh.[18] So in all of these things, we see that God is laying down a foundation for this element of water.
Remains of the washing baths of the Essenes (1st century BC-1st century AD)

            The River Jordan itself held a pivotal place for the Jewish people. It was the River that divided the lands of Abraham and Lot.[19] It was the River Jordan that Joshua parted so that the people of Israel would be allowed to enter into the Promised Land that the Lord had promised them back when they were slaves in Egypt.[20] It was the River Jordan that Elisha told the great Syrian general Na’aman to dip himself into seven times to be cleansed of his leprosy.
            So with all of these things in mind, we can begin to understand what it would have meant to the people of Israel to hear that there is a prophet preaching a message of repentance, down by the River Jordan, and offering a cleansing baptism of water, that would have meant a great deal to them. Then imagine they get down to the river, and are told by the Prophet, I indeed baptize you in the water unto penance, but he that shall come after me, is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; he shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost and fire.[21] Then one day this man from Nazareth comes down to the banks. He allows himself to be lowered into the water, and then, upon his surfacing from the water, the sky opens, the Spirit descends, and a voice proclaims, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.[22]  You can imagine what this would have meant to the people who saw this.

Notice Jonah and the fish at the feet of Jesus,
showing how Jonah was a prefiguring of Christ
            Yet now we must ask ourselves the question, what does this mean for us? What does it mean to me, sitting here? We have seen great miracles in these past couple of weeks. We have been told that the one who is to come will not only cleanse us of our sins, but will give us new hearts, one born out of water, the Holy Ghost and fire. We are told that not only are our sins forgiven, but a new relationship with God is being made available to us. Through baptism we become children of the most High, sharing in the Sonship of Jesus Christ. It seems to great to be true, but indeed it is. As it is written by the Apostle John; Behold what manner of charity the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called, and should be the children of God. Therefore the world knoweth not us, because it knew not him. Dearly beloved, we are now the children of God; and it hath not yet appeared what we shall be. We know, that, when he shall appear, we shall be like to him: because we shall see him as he is.[23]
            If this is what has been done for us, then what should our response be to God? How should we respond to what has been given to us? The Creed that we pray every Sunday is formulated as Credo “I believe.” Sometimes people have asked why “I believe” instead of “we believe” and the reason for this is that the earliest creeds were formed around the sacrament of baptism, and the statements were questions; Do you believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth? Si, Credo, Yes, I believe. Philosophers often point out the uniqueness of the question. A question forces us to recognize an objective reality while at the same time forcing ourselves to examine our subjective selves. That sounds complicated so allow me to explain. Let’s say I ask you: “Do you want pizza for dinner tonight?” This forces you to acknowledge the objective reality of pizza. Mmmm. Pizza. Cheese, crust, sauce and happiness in the forms of toppings. But then you have to examine yourself in relationship to that objective reality. Do I feel like pizza tonight? When is the last time I had pizza? Wait, I just had it last night and I’m trying to eat healthy, so maybe no pizza tonight. No wait, forget that, EAT ALL THE PIZZA!!
Dooooo it
            So now if I tell you, “Do you believe in God?” That forces you to examine this reality of God. What god are we talking about? Are we talking about Allah, Vishnu, Shiva, or Buddha? And if we are talking about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the one who is one God in three divine persons, than what does that mean for me in my life? Where am I in relationship with God? Today God is revealed as Triune; Father, Son and Holy Ghost. An invitation is given by the Son; follow me.[24] What will our response be? Saint John continues on the passage mentioned above; everyone that hath this hope in him, sanctifieth himself, as he also is holy.[25] Indeed, it means we must respond to Christ’s call to discipleship. Think of what happens in John’s gospel after the baptism of Christ. John is with two of his disciples (one of whom was Andrew, the brother of Peter) and he sees Jesus. He points to Jesus and says, behold, the Lamb of God. And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.[26] We cannot pretend our life is the same as it was before the moment of our Epiphany of Christ. How will we respond to the invitation of Christ? Will we follow him with all our hearts, mind and strength or will we turn away and go our own way? There is no middle way.

If anyone will follow me, let him deny himself,
and take up his cross, and follow me.
Mark 8.34

[1] John 4.13-14: Jesus answered her [the woman at the well], “Whosoever drinketh of this water [in the well] shall thirst again; but he that shall drink of the water that I will give him, shall not thirst forever: But the water that I will give him, shall become in him a fountain of water, springing up into life everlasting.”
[2] John 3.5
[3] Genesis 1.2
[4] cf. Genesis 6.17
[5] Genesis 9.15
[6] Genesis 8.21
[7] Catechism of the Catholic Church §§388-389: “With the progress of Revelation, the reality of sin is also illuminated. Although to some extent the People of God in the Old Testament had tried to understand the pathos of the human condition in the light of the history of the fall narrated in Genesis, they could not grasp this story's ultimate meaning, which is revealed only in the light of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.[Romans 5.12-21] We must know Christ as the source of grace in order to know Adam as the source of sin. The Spirit-Paraclete, sent by the risen Christ, came to "convict the world concerning sin",[John 16.8] by revealing him who is its Redeemer.

389 The doctrine of original sin is, so to speak, the "reverse side" of the Good News that Jesus is the Savior of all men, that all need salvation and that salvation is offered to all through Christ. The Church, which has the mind of Christ,[cf. I Corinthians 2.16] knows very well that we cannot tamper with the revelation of original sin without undermining the mystery of Christ.
[8] Exodus 2.10
[9] cf. Exodus 7.15-20; Exodus 8.6
[10] Exodus 14.11
[11] Exodus 14.16
[12] Numbers 20.7-13
[13] Psalm 63.1
[14] Isaiah 5.13
[15] cf. Leviticus 14-15
[16] cf. Leviticus 16.4
[17] Psalm 50(51).9
[18] Ezekiel 36.25-26
[19] cf. Genesis 13.8-18
[20] cf. Joshua 3
[21] Matthew 3.11
[22] Matthew 3.17
[23] I John 3.1-2
[24] Matthew 9.9
[25] I John 3.3
[26] John 1.36-37

No comments:

Post a Comment