January 8th 2018. Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord
Gospel: Mark 1:7-11
Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio
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GOSPEL Mark 1:7-11
n the course of his preaching John the Baptist said, ‘Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals. I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’
It was at this time that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised in the Jordan by John. No sooner had he come up out of the water than he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ
Kieran’s summary . . . In the first reading, people are invited to come to the water to be satisfied. The bounty of the Lord is entirely free, but we are reluctant to come. We prefer to pay for our happiness, to earn our self-esteem. Why is that? Why indeed! The first reading also tells us that God’s ways are not our ways, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. There is a huge gap between our way of doing things and the Lord’s ways, between our patterns of behaviour and the way that the Lord behaves. In the Gospel, Jesus arises from the waters of baptism and the heavens are split open. The gap between God and us is eliminated by Jesus in baptism. Finally we are given the chance of thinking like God and behaving like God because Jesus is offering us nothing less than communion with himself. But what is the key to making God’s ways our ways, God’s thoughts our thoughts? At the moment of baptism, the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus and the Father says, “Here is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”. God says the very same thing to all of us, and he is saying it right now! This is the key to living like Jesus! At the moment of our baptism, the Holy Spirit penetrated deep within us and the Lord said, “You are my beloved child! In you I am well pleased!” Satan’s fundamental strategy is to convince me that God does not love me because I am unworthy. This conviction leads to a disordered search to build an alternative identity for myself on the false foundations of the things that I achieve or the things that I possess. My true identity is that I am a beloved child of God who is a source of great happiness for the Lord! As the Psalm for Sunday says, truly the Lord is my salvation! Let us not fear! Let us follow him!
God has something good to give us, but we are reluctant to accept it because acceptance involves rejecting our own ways
We celebrate the feast of the Baptism of Jesus with the brief and evocative account from St Mark’s Gospel. The first reading is from the 55th Chapter of Isaiah, the last part of what is sometimes called the “Second Isaiah”. Whether a second Isaiah existed or not, this passage is incredibly beautiful. It tells of people who are thirsty and are invited to come for water and food. All of this bounty is for free, and the people are scolded for spending money on that which cannot satisfy. The point is that we must open ourselves to the bounty which the Lord wishes to present to us gratuitously. And it highlights a problem: why are we so reluctant to accept the generosity of God? Because we refuse to turn away from our habitual patterns of behaviour! “The wicked man does not abandon his ways, nor the evil man his thoughts. But my ways are not your ways, my thoughts are not your thoughts.” We do not appreciate this chasm between God’s ways and ours, and we conceive of God in terms of our own schemes, our own categories of behaviour.
Do we think that our ways of living, our patterns of behaviour, are compatible with God? Think again!
When a person has arrived at a stage of crisis in his life, the correct response is not to present him with a ready-made answer. He must first learn to question and contest his old ways of doing things. Similarly, when a married couple is having difficulties, it is not sufficient to present them with a solution. They will mismanage that solution with the same efficiency that they mismanaged their marriage. The first thing they must do is listen and learn to change their whole approach to things, their way of dealing with life on a daily basis. The Lord asks us to listen to him and to be open to his ways, to his thoughts that are so different to ours. It is our entire internal setup that needs to be radically altered. This cannot be achieved by studying theology, or by memorizing the entire catechism. All such study leaves our basic framework of life unaltered. We need to move out of our usual mode of existence, our solitary dysfunctional way of carrying on. If we undertake a regime for losing weight, we must be willing to change our eating habits. If we wish to follow God, we must radically change our everyday mode of behaviour.
How do we learn God’s ways? Jesus crosses the gap between God and us and initiates a life of communion with us. If we wish to live in God’s ways then we must live in communion with Jesus
In the Gospel, Jesus reveals the work of God and initiates this new way of being human that was spoken of in Isaiah 55. It begins with baptism, an act of purification. Jesus does not have need of purification, but he enters into the rite out of love for us. He takes us by the hand and teaches us the way. He comes to us as we are, queuing up before John with all the sinners. In so doing, he shows us the new posture that we need to adopt. As soon as Jesus enters the water, John see the heavens split open and the Spirit descend upon Jesus. The opening of the heavens represents the victory of God over the intermediary “gap” that exists between us and the Lord. Anthropomorphically, we locate God in the skies. St Paul refers to the power of evil that prevails in the air above us, because Hebrew cosmology locates Satan in the zone between us and God. Satan is the one who impedes us from going to God and gets in the way of God’s coming to us. God is impeded from coming down because I am under the influence of the tempter and do not listen to the Lord. But in Jesus the heavens are torn open and the gap that existed between us and God is eliminated. His ways can now become our ways, if we allow them to; his thoughts can enter into me; the Holy Spirit can descend into my heart! The new life I lead is no longer according to my own schemes because, finally, between me and God there is no longer a separation. In other words, the new life we are speaking about is none other than communion with God.
Satan wishes us to believe that God cannot love us because we are unworthy. But Jesus shows us that each one of us is a beloved child of the Lord
The new life that initiates with the purification in water - the new life that comes from baptism - culminates in the cry from God, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased!” This cry from the Lord is also directed towards each one of us individually. The splitting open of the heavens represents the defeat of the belief that we cannot reach God, that God cannot come down to us. It is fundamentally a Satanic idea to believe that God cannot love us because we are unworthy of him, that we are too dirty or undignified for him. This idea leads us to the proud and disordered search for a false identity by means of the things that we do and the things that we possess. When the Holy Spirit descends on us in baptism, a voice penetrates to our very interior. “You are my beloved child. In you I am well pleased!” Each one of us is a source of happiness for the Lord, but what is it that impedes us from believing it? Our pretences regarding ourselves. God knows how we are made. He know our weaknesses. In Christ he takes us by the hand and teaches us how much he loves us, and that we are all his beloved children.