Homily for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord Year A
Theme: BAPTISM: IDENTITY AND MISSION
By: Fr. Gerald Musa
Homily for Sunday January 12 2020
Traditional, religious, social and spiritual initiation rites are common among various people across the world. Initiation is a formal rite of acceptance within a given group or community. Initiation ceremonies go by different names: inauguration, induction or investiture. For example, we are currently planning for the formal acceptance of newly admitted students into the Catholic Institute of West Africa and this form of initiation is called matriculation. It is the official recognition of newly admitted candidates as members of the University community. Therefore, through matriculation, membership is conferred on these candidates and they become full-fledged members. Usually, there is a joke that says, newly admitted students have their names written only in pencil until after they have gone through the process of matriculation.
Within the Christian circle, baptism is the ritual of initiation. It makes one a full member of the Church and as St. Ambrose beautifully puts it, it makes one a member of the communion of saints. In fact, baptism confers a new identity on the baptised. John the Baptist is renowned for baptism people. He prepared people for the coming of the Messiah through baptism of repentance. His focal message was the conversion of hearts. Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John to be baptised. John was shocked to see Jesus in the company of penitents (those who needed repentance). With a deep sense of unworthiness John said: “I need to be baptised by you and do you come to me?” He consented only when Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” Fulfilling all righteousness meant that he did not need to repent from sin, but he went for baptism in order to stand in solidarity with those who live in sin and in the shadow of death.
The baptism of Jesus was not a baptism of repentance, because Jesus was sinless. It was not a baptism that conferred a new identity on Jesus; rather it was a baptism that confirmed his identity as foretold by the prophets. Many years before his arrival, the prophet Isaiah described him as the Chosen One, the Anointed One (in whom dwells the Spirit of the Lord), the Servant in whom the Lord takes delight; the Administrator of Justice.
This prophecy of Isaiah was re-echoed on the day of baptism. The voice of the God, the Father was heard from the clouds declaring, “This is my well beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” and the presence of the Holy Spirit appeared as a dove. The confirmation of the identity of Jesus came at the appropriate time, just at the threshold of his public ministry. Through this baptism, God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Thereafter, Jesus began his ministry, “He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil.”
The identity of Jesus as Saviour, Anointed, Servant, and ‘establisher’ of Justice was closely related to his ministry. Through out his public ministry he saved and served all who were in dire need of salvation. He served with a sense of justice. As prince of peace and apostle of non-violence, Jesus was aware that Justice is another name for peace. He knew that justice and peace are inseparable Siamese twins. With a sense of justice, Jesus administered to the strong and weak; to the young and old; to the mighty and little; to sinners and righteous people; to the healthy and sick; to his people and to foreigners; to the suffering and comfortable; to the ignorant and knowledgeable. He knew who he was and what he stood for. He broke the barriers that separated and the plague of suppression people.
One of the major plagues of the world today is injustice and this is the cause of bitterness, rancour and wars in many societies. Injustice has many dresses and come in different colours. Injustice presents itself in different forms such as sectionalism, discrimination, nepotism, tribalism, racism, marginalization and clannishness. People, even those who are baptised Christians are caught up in the practice of injustice. People who are privileged do not want to mingle with the underprivileged. People want to identify only with their own kind. The rich want to identify with those who belong to their class; Africans want to identify with only Africans; Asians want to live separately from others; Caucasians want to live apart from others; Muslims want to live in their enclaves and Christians want to be left alone in their cocoons. Consequently, our common humanity suffers as people exclude and discriminate against others. The life of Jesus teaches us to be conscious of how our identity and mission. His life teaches us also how to identify with others and stand in solidarity and not to push the weak, minorities and the poor to the brink of frustration. Jesus was sinless, righteous, rich, comfortable, strong, mighty and healthy. In spite of all that he was, he identified with sinners, the poor, those in distress, the weak, the little ones and the sick.
The feast of the baptism of Jesus reminds us about the fact that Jesus became poor in order to enrich us; he became weak in order to strengthen us servant gives us a new understanding of service and that the vocation and mission of every baptized Christian is to serve God and serve the people around. The leader becomes a servant and the master washes the feet of his disciples. Jesus invites all the baptized to share in his identity and mission.
Baptism of the Lord, Year A; Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Acts of the Apostles 10:34-38; Matthew 3:13-17