• Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7 • Acts 10:34-38 • Luke 3:15-16, 21-22 • Baptism of Lord C ‘13 •
Print PDF: Weekly Homily 01.13.2013
I did not choose to be a citizen of the United States. I am a citizen simply because I was born here. I have embraced my citizenship, vote, pay taxes and try to be a responsible citizen by engaging in civil dialogue with politicians and other citizens. I did not choose to be baptized. My parents made that choice for me. I did embrace the implications of my baptism and to be a Catholic-Christian. I freely choose to accept ordination as priest.
Baptism is not an end in itself – like, “baptize this baby and s/he is then free of original sin.” A friend of mine in town is a new grandmother. Her son is not interested in baptizing his newborn son, so grandma took him to the sink, poured water, and said the words. For her, baptism is about getting free of original sin. As so many of you, I once thought that way. In my own experience I have come to see baptism as the first step – the first step — in a lifelong process of becoming Christian. Becoming Christian means imitating and becoming like Christ.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran theologian and pastor in Nazi Germany. He was appalled by what the Nazis were doing as they set out to swallow Europe. The church’s failure and/or refusal to speak out or act to stop the suffering, denial of human dignity and murders forced Bonhoeffer to evaluate his own claim to be a Christian. Our nation’s budget ought to force us to do the same.
Bonhoeffer was well aware of and taught his students the theological implications of baptism. As he evaluated his own claim to be Christian he felt compelled to speak truth to power. He openly criticized and resisted the Nazi regime. For this he was imprisoned and murdered.
In his book “Testament to Freedom,” he wrote this. “A Christian does not merely profess to believe in Christ. A Christian experiences and lives Christ. An authentic Christian makes Christ the center of his/her life.” I would add this. A Christian makes Christ present in our world today. By Bonhoeffer’s own admission “he did not become a Christian on the day of his baptism. He became a Christian only when he began to live seriously by the tenets of the Great Sermon.”
Matthew, Mark and Luke make it clear that Jesus chose to be baptized. None tell us why.
With hindsight the post-resurrection communities struggled to understand Jesus and what it meant for them to imitate him and continue his work. After they were expelled from the synagogue, those first Christians struggled to claim they were the true Israel.
They were convinced Jesus was the one Isaiah had spoken of six centuries earlier. In making that connection they distorted texts from the Hebrew bible and provided the basis for our own shallow understanding of baptism. The Hebrew prophets like Isaiah were not foretelling the future. They were calling their peers back to the way they believed God had set before them.
Baptism was the first step taken by Jesus on a long and arduous journey to become what he heard himself called to be. He embraced a new plan of action for the renewal of Israel. He began to see things with a new perspective. With him everything was different. He acted and spoke of God as “a friend of life.” He invited people to trust in God and look at life in a new way. He was an advocate for justice. He was a peacemaker. He healed and liberated people. In the process he was changing. He began using a new kind of language. His passion became “the reign of God” – a fuller, more just life for everyone. In doing so he was becoming the sort of human being all of us are created to be. Crowds gathered and followed him. People saw him as a prophet.
Our baptism also was the first step for us in a long process of becoming like Christ. Christ was the first among us to become fully human. That is the long process in which all of us are engaged. It happens as we become advocates for justice, peacemakers, healers and liberators. As we become more human, we become more fully Christian, more Christ-like. And “the reign of God” – “God’s new reality” emerges among us.