Sunday Sermon for January 11, 2015, Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, year B
Readings: Is 42:1-4, 6-7; Acts 10:34-38; Mk 1:7-11
In the Gospel reading today St. John the Baptist confesses that there is coming after him One Who is mightier than he and of Whose sandal the Baptist is not worthy to stoop and loosen. One might just take this as pious pablum or as a simple expression of the humility of St. John the Baptist. However, even though he did not know the person of the Messiah, the Baptist certainly understood that his mission was to prepare the way for the Messiah and that His greatness is unlike anything this world can produce.
When we think of someone who is great, we most often think also of the arrogance and self serving aura that come with such a position. All too often, as our Lord attested, the great ones like to make sure people think or know them to be great. They like to make their power felt. Our Lord is the greatest Person ever to walk the earth, our Lady is next and Jesus Himself proclaimed that among those born of woman no one was greater than John the Baptist. We can certainly put other names of great Saints on the list as well, such as St. Joseph, St. John the Beloved, St. Peter, St. Paul and the like.
What is interesting about all of these people is that none of them tried to make their greatness felt. In the first reading Isaiah says of the Messiah that he will not cry out, not shout, not make his voice heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break and a smoldering wick he will not quench. This shows us the gentleness of the Lord and the humility which is what makes Him so great.
This humility of our Lord is also a benefit to us. St. Peter in the second reading calls Jesus the Lord of all. He is so, not only because of His sovereignty which is over all, but because of His charity and His mercy which led Him to serve rather than to be served. Although we are all, individually and collectively, unworthy to stoop and loosen the thong of His sandal, he lowered Himself and was willing to stoop and loosen the straps that held us bound.
Showing us the way that would lead to our freedom from the slavery to sin and to the devil, He entered into the waters and allowed Himself to be baptized by St. John the Baptist. He did not need to repent and He had no sins to be forgiven, but His humility allowed Him to receive a baptism that was specifically about repentance and forgiveness. In this act of being baptized, our Lord calls no attention to Himself. As usual, His demeanor is quiet, gentle and humble. This is underscored by the act of God which followed the baptism when God violently tears open the skies, descends in the form of a dove and proclaims Jesus to be His beloved Son with whom He is well pleased.
This might appear to us as a show of power and might on the part of God, but it was not done to draw any attention to the greatness of God or of our Lord. Other than Jesus and John the Baptist, there is no indication anywhere that this event was witnessed by anyone else. Jesus certainly did not need it to happen; He already knew Himself to be the Son of God. For St. John the Baptist it served as the sign he was promised so that he knew the One for Whom he was preparing the way. St. John could then testify to what he had seen and heard, but it was definitely not a show or an attempt to draw attention.
Each of us who have been baptized into Jesus need to look at His example and ask ourselves whether or not we are living in a similar manner. Even though we will readily admit that we are not worth to stoop and loosen the thong of His sandal, we act sometimes as if we are equal to or even greater than He. We so often fail in the areas of humility, gentleness, and charity.
One might argue that God gave us our personalities and some of us have personalities that are not so gentle. It is true that God gave us our personalities, but He also wants us to strive to acquire virtue. Rather than blaming God and justifying ourselves, we need to recognize that it is God’s will that we cooperate with His grace to become Saints precisely by overcoming these areas of weakness within ourselves. While we will never be worthy to stoop and untie our Lord’s sandal, we can at least try to live in a way that reflects that unworthiness: humility, gentleness and charity.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.