January 8, 2016

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThis weekend celebrates the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This is what happened. John the Baptist was preaching throughout the land, and he had gathered many admirers and many opponents as well, as later events were to prove.

John’s call was blunt and uncompromising. He called the people to turn to God. Many had drifted away from the ancient faith of Israel. Many utterly had rejected God. The temptation to spurn God was strong. God seemingly had deserted the Jewish people.

They hardly were prosperous. The land was not flowing with milk and honey, as God had promised to Moses. Most of all, the brutal, pagan Romans reigned supreme, their blood-stained heel pressing heavily upon every aspect of life.

Into this bleak situation came John. Jesus then entered the picture as the promised Savior when John baptized him.

The first reading is from the third section of Isaiah, written long before the Lord’s baptism but in times equally bad for the Jews. Central to the reading is an absolutely faithful figure, God’s “servant” (Is 42:1). God chose this servant and sent him to the people to teach them and to lead them to peace.

The servant was a “light” not only to Israel but to all “the nations” (Is 42:6). This broad aspect of the servant’s mission was a prelude to the Christian belief that Christ came to save all people, irrespective of any condition or circumstance.

The second reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, reinforces this Christian presumption. St. Peter, who after the Ascension clearly assumed the role of being head of the Apostles and of the Church, has entered the house of Cornelius.

This is a critically important detail. Cornelius was a Roman! His name was Roman. He was a pagan. He at least supported, and likely abetted, the cruel Roman occupation. He was part of the system that had crucified Jesus in the effort to replace God with the Roman emperor, a mere human being, and a disbelieving, immoral human at that.

Yet to Cornelius, Peter came with the saving power of Christ, because “God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34).

Finally, St. Luke’s Gospel describes the event of the baptism itself. It occurred in the River Jordan, in itself symbolic of life. The Jordan ran then, as it runs now, as a precious bearer of water in an arid, desperately dry land.

John admits his unworthiness even to loosen the straps of Christ’s sandals, but Jesus tells him to proceed. Innocent, holy and without blemish, Jesus steps into the place of sinful humanity. It is no impetuous move, disconnected from divine love, from divine mercy and from God’s plan to save us all from the effects of sin.

From the sky, an old symbol of God’s almighty, overseeing power, God the Father speaks, identifying Jesus as his beloved Son.

Reflection

The meaning of Peter’s entrance into the home of the pagan Cornelius and of Peter’s reception of Cornelius into the Church cannot be understated. We can be sure of this point. Faithful Jews who at the time witnessed this extraordinary act of Peter talked about it until they died! It was revolutionary.

It reminds us that the love of God stops at no border. No one is preferred. God loves all. It reminds us that salvation comes only in Christ. It reminds us that Peter represents Christ.

This feast is a study in mercy. God is merciful in dealing with us. By divine mercy in Christ, our sins are washed away. We are saved.

We, too, must show mercy, as Peter extended mercy to Cornelius, the Roman, a representative of the people that had crucified Christ and scorned his kingship. †

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