Sunday: January 10, 2106 –– Baptism of the Lord, Year C
Isaiah 40:1–5 / from Psalm 104 / Titus 2:11–14; 3:4–7 / Luke 3:15–16, 21–22
What's Wrong? (and what I can do)
Last week I had the luxury of a long morning prayer time at home. I was thinking about some hard things happening to people who are close to me; I was also aware of some particular horrible stories that had been in the news. I wept as images of hurting people flashed across the screen of my mind. There were the notorious examples: the family members of those killed by violence and the victims of child sexual abuse. Then there were the painful things that are all around us: the crushed wife longing for a genuine word of love from her husband…. the little child whose spirit progressively dies because of the hateful tone used by the parents…. the man who is withdrawn and often angry because all he remembers from his childhood is that he could do nothing right….
As I prayed that morning I cried out to the Lord, “Why is this world so hard and painful?” And immediately I knew that the real answer is imbedded in our Christian Faith: our world is broken; humans are not fully what they were created to be.
That is part of the essence of our Faith. It is because death entered the world through sin that we are are impacted by horrible things. It is because we are broken that we need to be healed. It is because we have so lost our way that we need to be saved. The death and resurrection of Jesus only makes sense when it is seen in the context of a broken world that needs salvation.
We often try to make peace with the world as it is––trying to “make the best of it” or “hope that things will soon be better”. And usually, when we use “hope” that way, it is not connected with the Christian hope. Christian hope is based on the new heavens and new earth promised by our Lord. This present world of sin and death is destined to perish so that the fullness of life in the Kingdom of God is the total reality.
This is what baptism means. It calls us to a death. Jesus died and then rose again for us, but first Jesus was baptized for us. To take our sins upon himself and die our death, Jesus submitted to baptism to take the initial step of identifying with sinners. Then he took the path to the cross. When we follow Jesus in baptism, we are entering the door to death and resurrection.
We like the resurrection part. We want the gift of eternal life (as well we should). But we need to understand that resurrection can only come after death. If Jesus had not died, he could not have risen from the dead. Likewise we are called to die, because by ourselves our legacy is death. This is why baptism is the foundational identity for Christians. Hear what the Church says in the Catechism: “Baptism is the first and chief sacrament of forgiveness of sins because it unites us with Christ, who died for our sins and rose for our justification, so that we too might walk in newness of life” (CCC #977).
The antiphon to the Evening Prayer Canticle puts it this way: “Our Savior came to be baptized, so that through the cleansing waters of baptism he might restore the old man to new life, heal our sinful nature, and clothe us with unfailing holiness.”
Going back to my morning of prayer, I literally cried out to the Lord, “Why is this world so hard and painful?” The Lord gave an answer that brought me again to his cross. This world is full of hurt and pain because I am broken.
There is a story about G. K. Chesterton that, when The Times posed a question, “What’s Wrong with the World?”, Chesterton reputedly wrote a brief letter in response: “Dear Sirs: I am.” St. Josemaria Escriva confesses, “We are all equal, all of us are children of Adam and Eve, weak creatures with virtues and defects, and capable all of us, if Our Lord abandons us, of committing the worst crimes imaginable.” This is the true implication of the saying: Except for the grace of God, there go I.
Timothy Cardinal Dolan elaborated on this:
The premier answer to the question “What’s wrong with the world?” “what’s wrong with the church?” is not politics, the economy, secularism, sectarianism, globalization or global warming…. none of these, as significant as they are. As Chesterton wrote, “The answer to the question ‘What’s wrong with the world?’ is just two words:’I am.’”
So Jesus was baptized for us. This is why we need to follow Jesus in baptism…. in death…. and into new life. Being baptized marks our highest calling. Nothing is greater than being identified with Jesus Christ. The question for us today is simply this: Am I living out of my Baptism? Are we following Jesus to the cross? Are we putting to death the self-pity, the self-protection, the self-promotion in our lives that so easily hurts others?
I have given this challenge before, but I offer it again today. Don’t be a “fossilized Christian”. Don’t let entering the church and making the sign of the cross with holy water be a mechanical gesture. Anticipate it. Let it every occasion be a time of renewing your commitment to Jesus: I belong to you, my Lord. I give myself to you fresh and new. Let the power of your baptismal waters again make me clean and totally yours.
Jesus Christ gave his life for our salvation. He suffered death for us. He rose from the dead for us. He initiated it by being baptized for you and me. Christian Baptism marks who we are. When we truly live in baptismal grace, the equation can shift: What’s right with the world? In Jesus Christ, I am. This is what Jesus offers all of us in baptism.