Feast of the Lord’s Baptism. January 12, 2014
Is 42:1-4, 6-7; Acts 10:34-38; Mt 3:13-17
The obedience that opens the heavens
A few years ago, while walking to the train station in Chicago on a wintery afternoon, a lady approached me and begged me for something to eat. I decided to buy a meal for her at a nearby McDonald’s store from the little seminarian’s stipend that I had with me then. I felt so good about myself as I purchased her meal thinking that this will please her. I can never forget her words when I handed her meal to her, “No ice cream? What about my children, I need some money for them too.” I told her that that was all that I could afford, wished her a nice day and walked away. I did not hear a single word of thanks from her but cursing and swearing. It was a rather painful reminder that it is not possible to please anyone and it sure is not possible to please them all the time. On a deeper sense, this episode made me ask myself why I do what I do. Is it to please self, others, or God?
Today’s feast of the Baptism of Jesus shows us that, only because of Jesus Christ, it is so easy for us to please God now. We do not need to do a lot to please Him. He only desires of us one thing – the same loving obedience that He sees in Jesus Christ. We please God in all the things that we do out of loving obedience to His will.
The Gospel of St. Mathew shows us Jesus coming to receive the Baptism of John that He obviously does not need. Jesus is the sinless one, the one conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary. He comes to receive this baptism in loving obedience to the Father and not to please Himself or St. John or anybody else. When the shocked St. John tried to dissuade Him, Jesus replied, “Allow it for now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” As He came out of the water, “the heavens were opened for Him…, the Spirit of God descended on Him like a dove and He heard the Father exclaim, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” The Father is so pleased with the simplest act that Jesus performed because Jesus did and endured all things out of loving obedience to the Father. The Father responds by rending the heavens open for His Son, embracing Him tightly by the gift of the Spirit that descended on Him and declaring Him His own beloved Son in whom He was well pleased.
St. Peter reminds the pagan household of Cornelius what Jesus did after His baptism by John: “He went around doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.” The loving embrace of the Father impelled Christ Jesus to do all the good that He did until He gave His life for us on the Cross of Calvary. He did not please all people but He became “a sign that was contradicted and opposed by many.” He did not see results for His efforts too because not everyone believed in Him. Despite the lack of results or the dissatisfaction of many, the Prophet Isaiah tells us that Jesus, the Lord’s servant “did not cry out or shout or make His voice heard in the street.” He remained so gentle that He “does not break the bruised reed or quench the smoldering wick.” Loving obedience to the Father alone kept Jesus going to the very end and His reward was the intensification of the Father’s loving embrace over Him till it became so strong to break the hold of death and the grave and raise Him up into heaven.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, the things that happened to Christ at His baptism – the heavens opening, the Spirit of God descending on Him, and the Father’s voice saying, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased” – all occur at the very moment of our own sacramental baptisms. Baptism unites us with Christ Jesus so that we share in Jesus’ own loving obedience to the Father, the obedience of a child out of love for the Father and not for any reward. It is this loving obedience that pleases God and opens us to be drawn ever more deeply into the divine embrace. But all these things also happen in our daily lives here on earth whenever we choose to obey God out of love for Him as His beloved children in Christ Jesus.
The only thing that pleases God and has value before Him are the things that we do out of love for Him. As long as our obedience remains on the level of rewards or tangible results or self satisfaction, we will lose the sense of God’s presence in our lives. But when we choose to obey God out of love for Him, we too grow in this gift of righteousness that Christ has won for us, we enter ever more deeply into the Father’s embrace and hear His words of affirmation ring out clearly in our hearts, “You are my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” This sense of God’s presence in our lives and His loving embrace is the fruit of that loving obedience that pleases God.
What happens when we forget this truth that we all can please God today if we do all in loving obedience to Him? We become discouraged with our state of life. We begin to fantasize about doing grand things for God and then ignore the little things right in front of us that call us to loving obedience. We lose our peace when we do not feel appreciated for what we do. We begin to tell ourselves that we will love God more when our situations in life improve. What an illusion? Mother Mary was as much pleasing to God when she brought forth Jesus in the manger as she was when she stood beneath the Cross uniting herself with Christ’s own loving obedience. The little things done and endured out of love for God here on earth always echo loudly in the heavenly chambers.
Jesus Christ whom we encounter in the Eucharist today says to us, “It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” He invites us and makes it possible for us too to fulfill all righteousness and please the Father. Every Eucharist, and indeed every sacrament we receive, makes us pleasing to God and draws us to participate more fully in Jesus’ own loving obedience to the Father as His sons and daughters. We may not see the results. We may not please all people. We may not even be completely satisfied ourselves with what we have done. But if we do all out of love for God in union with Christ, the heavens will remain opened for us too, the Father will further embrace us with the gift of His Spirit and we will have a deepened sense of God in our lives because we will hear the Father exclaim loudly in our hearts, “You are my beloved child with you I am well pleased.”
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!