Baptism of the Lord 2010

9 January 2010

Isaiah 42: 1-4
Acts 10: 34-38
Matthew 3: 15-17, 21-22

A well known speaker started a seminar participated in by over 200 men and women by holding up a new crisp twenty dollar bill.  “I want to give this away”, he says, “but first let me do this”. Then he proceeds to crumple up the money.  “Who wants it now?” he asks.  Many hands were raised.  He drops the money on to the floor and grinds it into the floor with his shoe.  When he holds it up again the bill is crumpled and dirty.  “Who wants it now?” he asks again.  The same hands go up.

My friends he says, “you have learned a very valuable lesson”, he tells them.  “No matter what I did to the money, you still wanted it because it did not decrease in value. It was still worth twenty dollars.  Many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled, and ground down by the decisions we make and the circumstances that come our way.  We feel as though we are worthless.  But no matter what has happened or what will happen, we will never lose our value in God’s eyes.  To God, dirty or clean, crumpled or new and crisp, we are always priceless”.

In the gospel today Jesus is baptized in the river Jordan.  It is a confirmation of his vocation as a human being.  His father’s voice from heaven speaks and says: “You are my Son, the Beloved: my favour rests on you”.  It says quite clearly that it is a favour that is not for a short term but it abides.  God says the same to each one of us.  “You are my beloved child.  My favour rests on you always”.  So no matter what we think of ourselves or how we feel because of past sins or failings or present weaknesses, God is speaking with authority to assure us of his love and choice that we are his beloved children.  Just prior to hearing the voice from heaven, the gospel account tells us that the heavens opened and the Spirit, like a dove, descended on Jesus. This recalls the opening verses of the bible when God’s Spirit hovered over the chaos to bring life and order to creation.  So the Spirit, which came upon Jesus at his baptism, reminds us of the new creation, the new covenant God makes with us.  Each of us therefore that has been baptized is a ‘new creation’ as St. Paul reminds us.

A friend of mine attends a psychotherapist regularly because she has a very low self-esteem or bad self-image. He tries to help her realize her giftedness and  inner goodness in spite of all but she finds this hard to accept.  Most of us are like this whether we realize it or not. Today in the gospel, God the Great Psychotherapist is trying his best to assure us, that we are great in his eyes.  In fact at the end of the first chapter of Genesis, the first book of the bible, we hear the words, “God saw all that he made and indeed it was very good”.  So from the opening of the bible to the last verse, this is the only message that God and Jesus wish to proclaim and they do this in many ways, through stories, parables, miracles, option for the poor and the rejected in society etc.  In God’s eyes, we are great, but like the crumpled or dirty dollar bill we think we are not of much value. The measure of how valuable or priceless we are is the Crucifixion of Jesus. God is trying to show us here just how very much he loves us and that in spite of all the evil in our world and our own part in it, God cannot stop loving you and me.  Why do we find it so hard to believe this?  Maybe because human beings reject or don’t accept us at times and we take this as the measure of our value instead of listening and accepting fully what God is telling us. It shows too how important is our vocation to encourage, affirm and build up others and not just criticize and knock them down. 

So the baptism of Jesus was his call to accept how beloved he was in God’s sight. If we could accept this, that we are loved unconditionally and passionately by God, we would be free then, as the first reading Isaiah reminds us, to love others.  And especially to work for justice and so show them by the way we treat them and love them that they too are very valuable.  This is our basic baptismal vocation or calling. All our Masses, prayers, devotions, novenas should strengthen us for this work.

Today in the gospel, Jesus though not having sinned, takes his place with other human beings as they line up to be baptized by John the Baptist. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance, Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit and that makes all the difference.  So Jesus stands by our side to show he is in solidarity with us. We are told in other gospels that John the Baptist’s baptism was a baptism for repentance. This is quite important for us to accept.  We need to repent to God of our sins, failings and acknowledge our need of his total forgiveness.  If my heart is cluttered up or full of hatred against another how can we be empty and free to receive the baptism of the Spirit, to receive God’s love and gifts?

“Lord Jesus, thank you for joining us in our need to be baptized with the Holy Spirit though you never sinned.  Help us to realise the great value we have in you sight.  Enable us to love ourselves first as you command us to do, so as to witness to others just how much you love them too. Amen”  

Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA

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