Baptism of the Lord
My most recent homily is on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Readings can be found here.
Why did Jesus need to be baptized? John preached repentance from sins since the Kingdom of God was at hand. For John’s disciples, baptism was the sign of their repentance. However, Jesus is without sin, so what need of repentance would He have? Even John recognizes this when he questions Jesus’ request to be baptized. John understood that, as a sinner, he needed to be baptized by Jesus. Only after Jesus says it is fitting to fulfill all righteousness does John agree.
What does Jesus mean by fulfilling all righteousness? In Scripture, righteousness is understood to mean trusting in God and doing God’s will. In Genesis, God promises Abram that he will have a son in his old age and that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. Abram believes in God and it is credited to him as an act of righteousness. Therefore, by fulfilling all righteousness, Jesus is doing God’s will.
And what is God’s will? One of the reasons Jesus came among us as a human being was to provide an example for us. This meant meeting us where we are, in this case, as sinners in need of repentance. Jesus wants to share in our experiences. This is what Paul means when he says in the second letter to the Corinthians “He who knew no sin became sin for our sake.” Jesus was baptized because we need to be baptized. Jesus provides an example and stands in solidarity with us in our humanity. This is why God calls Jesus His beloved Son with whom He is well pleased. Jesus’ willingness to stand with us as sinners and do God’s will is pleasing to God.
We need to follow Jesus’ example, not only in baptism, but in what Jesus does next. The Spirit comes upon Jesus after He is baptized. Immediately after this passage, the Spirit leads Jesus into the desert for 40 days of fasting and prayer after which He’s tempted by the devil. The Holy Spirit guides Jesus’ activities and ministry throughout His time among us. The Spirit also guided the actions and ministry of the Apostles. Since we received the same Holy Spirit in our baptism, the Spirit also wants to guide us. This requires we discern the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The best way to do this is through prayer. In our prayer, we should be open to listening for the Will of God for our lives. This discernment can take many forms, but I would like to highlight a few from my own experience.
One of the ways we can discern the Holy Spirit in our lives is what I refer to as a longing of the heart. The Spirit gently fills us with a sense that we need to do something or that there is something missing in our lives. We feel some unease or longing for something that perhaps we can’t quite describe or put our fingers on. This longing isn’t for something material or for our personal advancement, but a need to do something for others. We are likely being called to ministry in some way by this gentle longing.
Another way to discern the Spirit is what I like to refer to as the “bolt of lightning”. This is that sudden realization, usually out of nowhere, that the Spirit is asking us to do something or go in a certain direction. This may not happen often in our lives, if ever. It’s that “a-ha” moment when what we need to do is crystal clear.
A personal example may help in describing these two methods of discernment. Prior to entering formation for the diaconate, I never really felt a call to this ministry. Any thoughts I might have had about it were more about my ego than a desire to serve. However, I had this nagging feeling that I should be involved in some new ministry beyond those I already participated. A conversation with co-workers one day about their volunteer work really drove home this longing to me. That evening, a diaconate information meeting was scheduled and literally, out of nowhere, I knew I should go. I got home and told my wife of my intention and asked her to go with me. She was so surprised she didn’t know what to think. This began a long process of further discernment.
There are many other ways in which the Holy Spirit speaks to us to guide us in doing God’s Will. Each of us need to be attentive how Spirit is speaking to us. Jesus stands with us in solidarity in our humanity, showing us the way through His example. To fulfill all righteousness, Jesus was baptized, and the Holy Spirit came down upon Him. We have access to that same Holy Spirit through our baptism. Just as Jesus listened to the Spirit to guide Him in His ministry, we too must allow the Spirit to guide us to fulfill the will of God in our lives.