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Sunday, January 13, 2019

A Homily - The First Sunday in Ordinary Time, The Baptism of Jesus


First Reading - Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11 ©
Alternative First Reading - Isaiah 42:1-4,6-7 ©
Responsorial Psalm - Psalm 103(104):1-4,24-25,27-30 ©
Alternative Responsorial Psalm - Psalm 28(29):1-4,9-10 ©
Second Reading - Titus 2:11-14,3:4-7 ©
Alternative Second Reading - Acts 10:34-38 ©
Gospel Acclamation – Luke 3:16
The Gospel of the Day - Luke 3:15-16, 21-22 ©
(NJB)


Here the words of the prophet:

There is great hope expressed in Isaiah, a profound hope for the future wellness of all people, and our common destiny as children of God, the creator of the universe.

Listen to them.

The prophet expresses certainty in regard to the expectation of atonement, not just for the people of Israel, the children of Judah, but for all people in all times and all places. He is certain of our common destiny.

Be mindful.

The teaching of Isaiah serves as the principle foundation for the early church, and the whole of Christian faith accordingly.

John the Baptist, stood in the tradition of Isaiah, his was a voice crying out in the wilderness, calling the faithful to action, telling us to prepare a way for the savior. John’s was the hope of Isaiah, the expectation that the entire creation will bend to the will of God; every valley, every mountain, from the cliffs to the plains, everything last thing from te firmament to the heavens will yield to God.

Nothing and no-one will be excluded.
The faith of Isaiah, of John and of Jesus instructs us to believe that despite all the power of God, the infinite might, we are on better ground when we regard the creator as a figure like a shepherd feeding the flock, like a mother ewe among her children.

Listen.

Isaiah also speaks of God as the punisher, reminding the people of Judah of the punishment they have suffered for their crimes.

Remember this, their crimes were crimes against the people, their crimes took place in the world. They made enemies among foreign powers and they suffered doubly on account of their wickedness and vanity and broken promises, but they were not punished by God.

Their punishment, if you can call it that, their suffering, the injustice and the justice which they encountered was the doing of human beings. It was harsh, it was painful, it was cruel. Many of the people were slaughtered, many more were taken into captivity, but this was not the will of God. It was done by human beings, for human motivations.

God does not intervene in the affairs of the world.

Isaiah came in the midst of all those tragedies, as a voice crying out in the wilderness, as John came in later years, and then Jesus, to remind the people that God is with them, and that in the end all things will be resolved in love.

Be mindful.

God, the creator of the universe wants nothing more from us than this; that we act justly, love mercy and walk humbly.

This is the way Jesus taught us, listen to Isaiah, who made straight the way before him. Listen to John who led us to the savior. The savior is the person who brings justice to the nations, you will not hear him shouting for his vanity in the streets, you will see her cutting people off from their potential.

The savior is a healer, and a teacher.

The savior teaches us that justice is expressed through mercy, and that the law must be a servant to both.

This is what Jesus taught in his own day; he taught us that we should love God with all our strength and all our heart and all our mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

He preached on the Shema, he taught us that all the teaching of Moses and the prophets was contained therein.

Be kind to the stranger, be of service to your neighbor, love and forgive even your enemies. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and do not do to them what you would not want done to you.

This is the whole of the law, this is the sum of Isaiah’s teaching.

Keep to this law as a covenant, hold to it as promise between yourself and God. Preach it until the blind see, and all those who are captive to sin have been freed.

Know this.

God is the creator of the universe, the eternal God is the first source and center of all things.

The infinite God engenders all potentialities, and yet interferes with none of them.

The universe that God created, God created free from coercion. God does not coerce creation. And yet the entirety of what is, moves according to God’s eternal purpose.

The scope of this mystery is the content of our faith.

It wise to believe in the God of creation. God’s power is infinite and it undergirds everything that exists. God’s power is present in all times and places. Truly God is everywhere, and God knows all things. But it is not God’s voice we here in the wind above the waves. We do not hear God in the thunder. God does not splinter trees. God is not active in the affairs of human beings, rather God has made creations, and us in it free.

God is not a king.

Be mindful.
The salvific work that Jesus wrought did not begin with his birth, or his death, it began in the mysterious place outside of time, at the beginning of all things.
The Church teaches that our salvation begins with the Word of God, the Logos, the second person of the trinity in whom all things were made. The salvation of all people, of all creation, that work began then, in the divine person.
It was built into the foundation of all that is. God is the foundation of al that is.
Listen to the teaching of the apostle.
Living a good and restrained life does not purchase salvation, we do not earn it, and no one earned it for us.

Living a good and restrained life, a life of justice and mercy, a life of love and humility, is to live a life that manifests the reality of God’s salvific will, the will of God that is already present in us.

Those qualities, those spiritual characteristics are like flags we raise in our own time and place, we raise them to display them for all to see. We raise them to show others the beauty and peace of the kingdom of God, the expectation of it which we hold in faith while we sojourn here on Earth.

Remember this:

God, the creator of the universe; the eternal and infinite God knows us and loves us.

God is the savior of all people, providing for it from the moment we come into being.

Salvation is wellbeing, both in this world and the next. The reception of it does not require rituals or rites, or a magical mechanism of justification.

It is given, and it is free.

There are no secret codes that grant us access to heaven.

We are saved in the next world because God wills it.

We are saved in this world through our faith in its promise, by a simple trust in God, expressed as hope, manifested as love in our relationships with our fellow human beings.

I say this with confidence, as imperfect a messenger as I am.

Listen:

We must always bear in mind that God does not intervene in creation, or the free choices of human beings.

God does not intervene anywhere.

God did not so much anoint Jesus, as did Jesus accept the mantle of sonship to God, and the full burden that this entailed, even to the extent that he went to his death and suffered on the cross in fidelity to his mission.

Jesus was free to reject the ministry that was before him, but he did not. He was faithful to the end. Setting an example to us all.

Few people will be called to serve in the capacity that Jesus served; to be tortured and executed for doing what is right and good; for healing the sick and feeding the hungry, for giving hope to the hopeless, for protecting the widow and the orphan.

Few of us have the capacity to love justice so much that they could humbly endure what Jesus endured, and that is why we call him the Christ.

Follow Jesus.

Do good.

Love justice.

Be merciful; be a source of healing in the world.

This is the way of Christ, do the best you can, not for the sake of your salvation, God has that in hand. Do good for your sisters and brothers, for all women and men.

Let us reflect on what these teachings mean, as they pertain to the Gospel reading for today.

In the calendar of observances today is a feast day. It is the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus.

We have just concluded our celebration of his coming and his birth. Now we celebrate the beginning of his public ministry; the journey that led to his death on Golgotha.

In Judea, and in the broader Palestinian world the average person felt displaced.

On the one hand they were a client state of Rome, and on the other hand they were subject to the corruption of their own royal dynasty; the Herodians.

The average person had no representation at the Temple in Jerusalem, because of the laws of ritual purity they could not even approach the temple grounds, which both the spiritual and economic center of their world.

The average person ardently hoped for and expected deliverance. Their messianic faith focused the attention of the people forward, to the “anointed one,” the, the messiah, in Greek the Kyrios, in English the Christ.

They hoped for deliverance from both the political corruption of the Romans and the Herodians, as well as the sectarian corruption at the temple, the corruption of the temple scribes, the Sadducees and the Pharisees (returning from the diaspora).

In the person of John the Baptist the people saw a figure who might represent part of this deliverance. He was stern and outspoken, uncompromising and mysterious. He was an aesthetic, and while he preached repentance, he promised the reality of God’s love; he pointed to its presence in the lives of the baptized, the reality of God’s forgiveness, present to the people without intermediary, apart from the cult of sacrifice.

This narrative tells us that John eschewed the title and office that some of the people might have thrust on him. It tells us that John himself had the same hopes and expectations as the common man or woman, but that John also had the knowledge of who the Christ was.

He knew Jesus of Nazareth, and he knew he was coming. When John says; “I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals.” John is saying that compared to Jesus, he is lower than the lowest servant, and he means it in his heart.

John accepts the role of a servant, as jesus did and as Jesus taught.

Had John lived, the history of Christianity would have been very different, but John was arrested and killed shortly after he baptized Jesus.

The disciples of Jesus, and the Gospel writers who followed them would spend the next one hundred and fifty years writing their narratives and telling their stories in a manner intended to keep the followers of John in their movement.

This required a great deal of effort. This effort served to shape the Christian story in a way which ultimately undermined the significance and uniqueness of the ministry of Christ.

It perpetuated questions like:

“Who is greater John or Jesus?”

And it prompted the followers of Jesus, long after his death to amplify that narrative, making it so that Jesus did not merely receive his baptism from John, but the heavens broke open, and the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove, and a voice came out of nowhere proclaiming that Jesus was the favored and beloved Son of God.

Such myths, while they are fantastic and entertaining, represent a departure from the tradition that John and Jesus followed, the tradition of Isaiah, and the prophets who sought justice for the people.

The entirety of Luke’s narrative is the interpolation of myth into the ordinary story of the man, Jesus of Nazareth. It introduced categories of ownership and inheritance, and of dominion, which, it may be argued, that Jesus himself did not speak to or concern himself with, even though his followers, even those closest to him were very much concerned with it.

The Christian story is best told without artifice, without the fabrication of myth, and without resorting to fables, and magic. It is a story of love and service, of hope and healing, and the celebration of our common humanity.

The good news eclipses the differences between the sexes, it eclipses tribalism, sectarianism, and nationalism. In doing so it shows us the only path to peace, and justice, the path of the faithful, one we are called to make straight and follow.


First Reading - Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11 ©

The glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all mankind shall see it

‘Console my people, console them’ says your God.

‘Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and call to her that her time of service is ended, that her sin is atoned for, that she has received from the hand of the Lord double punishment for all her crimes.’

A voice cries, ‘Prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord.

Make a straight highway for our God across the desert.

Let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill be laid low.

Let every cliff become a plain, and the ridges a valley; then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all mankind shall see it; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’

Go up on a high mountain, joyful messenger to Zion.

Shout with a loud voice, joyful messenger to Jerusalem.

Shout without fear, say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God.’

Here is the Lord coming with power, his arm subduing all things to him.

The prize of his victory is with him, his trophies all go before him.

He is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast and leading to their rest the mother ewes.


Alternative First Reading - Isaiah 42:1-4,6-7 ©

Here is my servant, in whom my soul delights

Thus says the Lord:

Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom my soul delights.

I have endowed him with my spirit that he may bring true justice to the nations.

He does not cry out or shout aloud, or make his voice heard in the streets.

He does not break the crushed reed, nor quench the wavering flame.

Faithfully he brings true justice; he will neither waver, nor be crushed until true justice is established on earth, for the islands are awaiting his law.

I, the Lord, have called you to serve the cause of right; I have taken you by the hand and formed you; I have appointed you as covenant of the people and light of the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to free captives from prison, and those who live in darkness from the dungeon.


Responsorial Psalm - Psalm 103(104):1-4,24-25,27-30 ©

Bless the Lord, my soul! Lord God, how great you are.

Lord God, how great you are,
  clothed in majesty and glory,
wrapped in light as in a robe!
  You stretch out the heavens like a tent.

Bless the Lord, my soul! Lord God, how great you are.

Above the rains you build your dwelling.
You make the clouds your chariot,
  you walk on the wings of the wind,
you make the winds your messengers
  and flashing fire your servant.

Bless the Lord, my soul! Lord God, how great you are.

How many are your works, O Lord!
  In wisdom you have made them all.
  The earth is full of your riches.
There is the sea, vast and wide,
  with its moving swarms past counting,
  living things great and small.

Bless the Lord, my soul! Lord God, how great you are.

All of these look to you
  to give them their food in due season.
You give it, they gather it up:
  you open your hand, they have their fill.

Bless the Lord, my soul! Lord God, how great you are.

You hide your face, they are dismayed;
  you take back your spirit, they die.
You send forth your spirit, they are created;
  and you renew the face of the earth.

Bless the Lord, my soul! Lord God, how great you are.


Alternative Responsorial Psalm - Psalm 28(29):1-4,9-10 ©

The Lord will bless his people with peace.

O give the Lord, you sons of God,
  give the Lord glory and power;
give the Lord the glory of his name.
  Adore the Lord in his holy court.

The Lord will bless his people with peace.

The Lord’s voice resounding on the waters,
  the Lord on the immensity of waters;
the voice of the Lord, full of power,
  the voice of the Lord, full of splendour.

The Lord will bless his people with peace.

The God of glory thunders.
  In his temple they all cry: ‘Glory!’
The Lord sat enthroned over the flood;
  the Lord sits as king for ever.

The Lord will bless his people with peace.


Second Reading - Titus 2:11-14,3:4-7 ©

He Saved Us by Means of the Cleansing Water of Rebirth

God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race and taught us that what we have to do is to give up everything that does not lead to God, and all our worldly ambitions; we must be self-restrained and live good and religious lives here in this present world, while we are waiting in hope for the blessing which will come with the Appearing of the glory of our great God and saviour Christ Jesus. He sacrificed himself for us in order to set us free from all wickedness and to purify a people so that it could be his very own and would have no ambition except to do good.

But when the kindness and love of God our saviour for mankind were revealed, it was not because he was concerned with any righteous actions we might have done ourselves; it was for no reason except his own compassion that he saved us, by means of the cleansing water of rebirth and by renewing us with the Holy Spirit which he has so generously poured over us through Jesus Christ our saviour. He did this so that we should be justified by his grace, to become heirs looking forward to inheriting eternal life.


Alternative Second Reading - Acts 10:34-38 ©

God Had Anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit

Peter addressed Cornelius and his household: ‘The truth I have now come to realise’ he said ‘is that God does not have favourites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him.

‘It is true, God sent his word to the people of Israel, and it was to them that the good news of peace was brought by Jesus Christ – but Jesus Christ is Lord of all men. You must have heard about the recent happenings in Judaea; about Jesus of Nazareth and how he began in Galilee, after John had been preaching baptism. God had anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and because God was with him, Jesus went about doing good and curing all who had fallen into the power of the devil.’


Gospel Acclamation – Luke 3:16

Alleluia, alleluia!

Someone is coming, said John, someone greater than I.
He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

Alleluia!


Gospel Reading - Luke 3:15-16,21-22 ©

'Someone is coming who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire'

A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people, who were beginning to think that John might be the Christ, so John declared before them all, ‘I baptise you with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Now when all the people had been baptised and while Jesus after his own baptism was at prayer, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily shape, like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’


The Third Sunday of Christmas
Feast of the Baptism of Jesus

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