Baptism of the Lord B
January 10, 2021
Mark 1: 7-11
By Rev. John Tran
What is essential about baptism? It seems that the essential element is about relationships. In Jesus’ baptism three things come to mind: First is Jesus relationship with his Father; Second is his relationship with the one baptizing him, John the Baptizer; third, is Jesus relationship with us who are baptized into his body. It is true that baptism is about cleansing us from sin; but that is done in the context of our relationship with Jesus, his Father, and one another - the others who are baptized.
It is also clear that relationships are about communication. If we live a life in Christ, we communicate with him and his Father by means of prayer, listening to God’s word, and receiving the life-giving sacraments. In our communication in these ways we participate through our communication the opportunity to praise and thank God, petition to him in our and others’ need, and forgiveness of sins over and over.
When Jesus prayed at the Jordan River and was baptized, his relationship with John the Baptist is made clear: John was the one who announced Jesus and was not worthy to unstrap his sand. His relationship with God is made clear as well: Jesus in the Father’s beloved son, and we are to listen to him. The Father was to become Jesus confidant and strength throughout his earthly life when he prayed in the desert and lonely places, and especially when he prayed in the Garden and on the Cross.
After Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus freed us from the slavery of sin and mortal death. And more, he made us, in our Baptism, members of his very body, and consequently sons and daughter of his Father in heaven. Thus, in our baptism, we are proclaim the Father’s heirs. Just as with Jesus, our baptism establishes our relationship with God, with himself and with all humankind.
But when we embrace the relationships in baptism, we are to not be passive. We pray and petition God. We make ourselves visible in the participation in the sacramental life of the church, which after all is Jesus’ body, his presence on earth. And because we agree to become his presence, we show others in our own time, what he was like. We become a servant like Isaiah in the first reading. We bring forth justice, not by crying out, not by shouting, not by making our voice heard in the street. Instead we imitate Jesus who went around healing and doing good. It is not our goal to break the bruised reed or put our the smoldering wick. Rather, we bring others into Jesus’ baptism with all its relationships. It is our goal to make mercy and healing bring forth justice in the same way Jesus has done. In this way we are a light for the nations, we open the eyes of the blind, we bring forth prisoners from confinement, and free those who live in darkness.
A person who brings this to life is St. Damien of Molokai. When leprosy broke out among the people of the Hawaiian Islands in the middle of the 19th century, the government authorities responded by establishing a leper colony on the remote island of Molokai. The victims were snatched by force from their families and sent to this island to perish. However, moved by their terrible plight, a young Belgian priest, Saint Damien De Veuster (canonized October 11, 2009), asked permission from his superiors in the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary; to minister to them. Straightaway, he realized that there was only one effective way to do this, and that was to go and live among them. Having got permission, he went to Molokai
At first, he tried to minister to the lepers while maintaining a certain distance. But he soon realized that he had to live among them in order to gain their trust. As a result he contracted leprosy himself. The reaction of the lepers was immediate and wholehearted. They embraced him and took him to their hearts. He was now one of them. There was no need, no point any more, in keeping his distance. The lepers had someone who could talk with authority about leprosy, about brokenness, about rejection and public shame.– Today’s Gospel tells us how, by receiving the baptism of repentance, Jesus became identified with the sinners whom he had come to save.
Our relationships with God and other baptized Christian defines us. Are we not called to be one with sinners and follow in the footsteps of Jesus and people like Damien of Molokai in serving them?