Homily for Sunday, the Baptism of the Lord

Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord and we hear a Gospel reading from Luke describing the event. Did you know that all four Gospels attest to the Baptism of Jesus? Anything that is covered in all four Gospels must certainly be important.

Why did Christ need to be baptized? This is a question that even John the Baptist asked. After all, Christ is the Son of God; what need would He have for baptism?

Baptism forgives sin. In baptism, all sin is washed away from us. But Christ is without sin, so He had no need for it to be washed away.

In baptism, we are made an adopted son or daughter of God. Christ had no need to be an adopted son of God; He is and always has been the true Son of God.

Through baptism, we are incorporated into the Church and made a part of the body of Christ. Jesus had no need to be incorporated into His own body; He is His own Body.

As a result of baptism, we are given a share in the universal priesthood of Christ. Christ doesn’t need a share in His priesthood; He possesses that priesthood in its perfection and in its entirety.

So… why was Christ baptized?

Pope Benedict XVI in his book Jesus of Nazareth teaches that baptism by John in the Jordan was a confession of sin and a statement that the one being baptized was ready to set aside an old, failed life and to receive a new life. Now, Jesus is without sin; His life is in no respect a failed one, and yet He chooses to, as His Holiness writes, blend “into the gray mass of sinners waiting on the banks of the Jordan.”

Christ’s desire for baptism confused John the Baptist, and it could easily confuse us if not for the fact that we can see Our Lord’s baptism through the lens of the cross, a luxury which was of course not available to John. In the Christian life, much that seems confusing or contradictory at first glance can be understood much more clearly when seen with Easter eyes.

Christ is beginning His journey to the Cross in baptism, in which it is not His sins that are washed away but rather the sins of all mankind that He takes on. We go into the waters of baptism and come out clean; Christ goes into the waters of baptism and takes on our dirt.

In His own baptism, Christ stepped into our place and takes on the weight of our guilt. In our baptism, we step into Christ’s place and are washed free of our guilt, coming out the adopted sons and daughters of God and a member of the Body of Christ.

I say that we become members of the Body of Christ very deliberately. When we receive communion, the minister holds up the Blessed Sacrament and says, “the Body of Christ.” We are a Eucharistic people; we are called to live Eucharistic lives. This means that we are called to live to the best of our ability a life that emulates Christ.

Christ was not simply a nice guy who did nice things and asked each of us to be nice to each other; nice is not the mark of salvation and it may well be that there are plenty of nice guys in hell. Christ laid down His life and shed His blood for us so that we can have life eternal.

A Eucharistic people is one that gives thanks to God in the model of Christ, our high priest, who offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice; a Eucharistic person is one who is grateful to God in such a way that it calls him to a conversion of life and a dedication of that life to his share in the priesthood of Christ… even to the point of giving up his own life in the service of God and his fellow man.

This is no small calling. This is not something easily obtained, but is done in steps as one grows in faith and becomes closer to Christ. It is the work of a lifetime and it is a task that can only be accomplished through participation in the divine life and cooperation with the grace that we are given. It is not by our own merit that we can be a truly Eucharistic people, but only with the aid of Our Lord. Let us pray always for the grace of God and the help we need to become the people we are called to be: a Eucharistic people… a people of Christ.

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