Homily of H.E. Mons. Claudio Gatti of January 13, 2008
BAPTISM OF THE LORD
1st reading: Is 42:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 28; 2nd reading: Act 10:34-38; Gospel: Mt 3:13-17
Now you have confirmation that if you read carefully the word of God which is carefully explained to you and assimilate the content, you too may even succeed in saying a homily. This is because the word of God is so expressive and clear that by reading the passages one after another we find a logical concatenation and development. Sometimes you have to use some tricks; in this case you have to place first the passage taken from prophet Isaiah, then the passage taken from the Gospel of St. Matthew and then the part taken from the Acts of the Apostles. Let's start from the great prophet Isaiah, one of the greatest, the one who talked about the passion in such a clear way, six centuries before the birth of Jesus, to be called the 'fifth evangelist'.
Thus says the Lord:
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.
I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness" (Is 42:1-4, 6-7).
Isaiah speaks of the servant, the servant of the Lord and you know that this and other passages we have read are to be interpreted in a messianic way. The passages refer to the Messiah, the Christ, even though the one who wrote them, the prophet, under the direct inspiration from God, did not refer to the Messiah in that historical context, but to a specific historical situation i.e. the return from exile of that portion of the Jewish people who had been forced to leave their country and go far away, in exile, and then, because of God's intervention, and God’s interventions can be read in the events of human history, were able to return to Palestine. Fathers and Doctors of the Church, before us and with more authority than us, dwelled upon this passage and interpreted it in a messianic way. We follow their teachings and continue to interpret it accordingly. When Isaiah writes "Here is my servant", the expression must be understood in its biblical meaning. In fact, in the Old Testament when we speaks of the servant of God, we do not mean the slave, the subordinate; in the Old Testament servants are Abraham, Moses, David, the servants are the prophets, which means that in the biblical conception the word servant has the meaning of the one to whom God entrusted an important task. There is someone who exceeds those I have just mentioned, referring to the meaning of the word servant according to the significance I have just explained: he is Christ. He truly is the servant of the Father. The Father has entrusted him with the task and mission of redemption. Further confirmation that this is the real concept of servant and that this meaning may very well be connected to the figure of Christ, indeed, it belongs almost exclusively to him, is inferred by reading the successive passages. In the passage "my chosen one in whom I delight" we see a preview of the words that our Father uttered at the time of the baptism of the Son. These are almost the same words, the concept is the same. Who is the one to whom God addresses his satisfaction in the widest possible way? It is his Son for he is the same in nature, divinity and all attributes relating him to divinity. So the real pleasure of God is addressed to Christ and then, subsequently, will extend to all other humans. With the words "my Spirit on him" ??is meant the beginning of the prophetic mission. The prophet is not one anticipating events and times, but the one who carries out a task, a mission, drawing the people to their responsibilities and their duties. The Servant "will bring justice to the nations", these words tells us that before the advent of redemption there was absolutely no right because men were overwhelmed by guilt and were in a moral and spiritual slavery and slaves had no rights, but only the children. And here comes the redemption, and today we'll see it in the light of the feast of Baptism, the widest spiritual transformation, the transition from slave to child. If we refer to the mentality of the Old Testament and even to some historical situations of man, we can say that children have rights, servants and slaves do not. Now look at how the servant of God, the prophet, fulfills his mission. He does not force it from above with his strength, though he could, he does not shout it out, he does not strike terror, "He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets", for the power of persuasion of his word is like his nature, it is endless and it is more than enough to conquer and transform people. Therefore has no need to demonstrate his power, but it is enough for him to speak and do it gently. Do you remember Abraham’s experience in the Old Testament, how he perceived that God had shown his presence? Not through annoying noises or reckless sounds, but feeling that light breeze indicating the presence of God. And again we read, "he is merciful", the servant of God is the one expressing mercy in the most extensive way, in fact "A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out", this means that he bend down on the weak people to strengthen and help them. It is not a reference to the parable of the Good Samaritan who is the only one stopping by the one who has fallen in the hands of robbers and was stunned by them. In this context there is a wonderful sense of compassion, mercy, forgiveness. Here is the one who is the Redeemer, he is the one who stops and bends down on every man, he does not look at him from the top down, but he stands at the man’s height and in fact also Paul tells us "he is like us in all things except sin". We read: "He will bring forth justice". Before him and after him there will be many false prophets who will announce: "Look, there is Christ", but Jesus said: "Do not believe if you will hear them saying here is the Christ". This is the subject of attention, the choice of responsibility that we have to do in a clear and intelligent way.
Now I would like to make a connection between the passage taken from prophet Isaiah and the passage taken from the Gospel of Matthew.
At that time, Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.
But John tried to deter him, saying: “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased". (Mt 3:13-17)
Take the sixth verse of the book of prophet Isaiah and read: "I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness” then we go to the Gospel of Matthew: "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness". In these verses we find the exact meaning of the word justice. In this context the term does not means rectitude or to behave justly. Jesus, when uttering the sentence "it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness", he means it is appropriate that we do the will of God. Here is what justice is. In fact this is what John the Baptist says to Jesus: "Have I to baptize you? It is you the one to baptize me". And now you can understand Jesus' answer: "We must do the will of God. The Lord demands that I, the Son of God, and as such equal to the Father, need to be baptized by you". And the baptism takes place. I have always said that every word of the scripture is worthy of respect, and we cannot read the word of God in haste, passing over the words. Now you understand how, in Matthew's Gospel, there is an expression indicating the fullness of infinite grace that is in Christ. In verse sixteen is written "As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water". Perhaps to many this passage does not say anything but it says a lot to those who stop and read the scripture carefully. The sinners who came to John to be baptized received the Baptism with water, a sign of purification. Once baptized, they stopped by the river Jordan to confess their sins to God and they stopped for a longer or shorter time depending on the sins that they had to list, in a direct relationship with Him. Jesus has no sin, he is God, he is righteous par excellence. Here, once baptized, went up out of the river immediately, for He must not confess any sin. This is a new light that makes us taste and live in a better way a page of the Gospel: "Once baptized Jesus went up out". Now you better understand how even a small detail is important. I want to add one more detail to it. It is in the Gospel of Luke, in the passage parallel to this one, the one that Luke wrote to recount the time of baptism. Only Luke brings out a detail about Christ, highlighted in many moments of his life. Luke writes that "Jesus went up out immediately, but prayed", he was conversing with the Father, then what happened thereafter, when Christ heard the words: "This is my beloved Son, in Him I am well pleased", is the conclusion of a prayer addressed by the Son to the Father, it is the conclusion of a conversation that took place between the Son and the Father.
We come now to our Baptism. Actually today we celebrate the renewal of baptismal promises. For every baptized person we can apply verse sixteen. As soon as we receive Baptism, after the priest says the words: "I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit", immediately, and here is the power of Baptism, all sins committed are taken away. To the small child, insentient, still deprived of the use of reason, the original sin is removed. To the adults all personal sins are removed. Then we experience something similar to what happened at the time of Jesus' baptism. Every man, just after Baptism, may be designated by God as his son on whom he feels contentment. There is no more sin. Oriental people who teach us so many things actually often combine the celebration of Baptism, when people are baptized as adults, with Confirmation, Confirmation and Eucharist. An adult does not need to go to confess his sins previously committed because they are removed from the sacrament of Baptism. Do you see how the action and the power of God is transforming? To the point that to him, to her or to those who are before God full of personal faults, a moment after receiving the sacrament of Baptism, all sins are erased.
In those days Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.
You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached - how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him" (Acts 10:34-38).
This passage, taken from the Acts of the Apostles tells us that redemption is not an act of God catering only for certain categories, for some peoples, but it is universal. "I now realize" says Peter "that God does not show favoritism but accepts the one who fears him", here is expressed the concept of universality of redemption. Paul says the same thing: "There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus", then also Paul is telling us that we are all equal, we are all children of God. This is the speech of man equality before God and the respect that he has for every man, regardless of the race he belongs, the culture he holds the wealth he shows or the intelligence governing his life.
We cannot remember our baptism because when we received it we were small, we were a few weeks or a few days or at the most a few months old. But at least once a year we go with the thought to our Baptism and what we could not do at that time, for we had no use of reason, let's do it now. Let’s thank God for the gift of this divine filiation and thank Christ who, with his passion and death, has allowed it. Once more we understand how man may change only because God is willing and allows it. Men do not change on their own or just with their commitment. Only through grace, only by the grace of God you can change. Now comes the time of intentions and commitment, i.e. to live in a state of grace to always enjoy this filiation with God. When fragility, weakness, human frailty prevail over good will and you fall into sin, remember, if you will, that you can relive the greatness of Baptism in the confession. Just after baptism Jesus came out of the Jordan, we, just after Baptism, are transformed, but we can also say that, as soon as we receive absolution, we go back as we were before, and for that reason we can resume on our blocked path. And even if sometimes, with terrible and great effort, we try to go on always in God's light, with the light of God because although we do not see Him, He sees us.