January 10, 2021 The Baptism of the Lord (Cycle B)
The tie in between today’s readings: The Way to a New Life
Our reading in Isaiah 55:1-11 begins with a question. God asks, “Why are you spending your time and money chasing the empty promises of this world for happiness when I can give it to you for free?” If you are like me, you may have had the sneaking suspicion that life is missing something. In the Old Testament book of Ecclesiasticus, King Solomon examines every aspect of existence from a mortal point of view—wealth, pleasure, knowledge, among others—and ends with a conclusion that would cause anyone to double up on their Prozac. We have problems. Death makes our lives futile as it erases our impact in this world like ripples on a pond. To make matters worse, rejecting God, the author of life, wastes the little time we do have stumbling along on our own trying to find fulfillment. The Almighty has a proposition for us. He says, “Listen, I know a way. I have a plan. I can give you a life worth living. But this offer is only for the wicked who will come to Me for amnesty.”
So, who is God calling wicked, exactly? Well, from the Bible, we could name the obvious nasties: Cain, Jezebel, and Herod. The Pharisees would easily make our roll as well. Funny thing about the Pharisees though. While Jesus strenuously condemns them, they were seen as the good guys of Jewish society: always giving alms, prayerful, and devout. Our Lord takes His evaluation about the wicked even a step further in Matthew 7:11 when, during His Sermon on the Mount, He calls His entire audience evil. After that, it’s a wonder that any of them stayed around for verse 12. Let’s be honest, when the evil and wicked are referenced in scripture we tend to think of them as “those other people”. As in the parable of the clueless Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14, we secretly see our own halos shining brightly when we compare ourselves to others. But God’s perfect holiness is the real standard for moral living. The Lord examines our hearts. No one measures up. So, who are the wicked? We all are! Congratulations! Own it! Because in recognizing this truth, there is hope.
During the time of our gospel in Mark 1:7-11, those who admitted their evil came to John to be baptized in the waters of repentance. While it was a good start, water baptism wasn’t enough. John told them that a greater One was coming. He would give them what they needed: baptism in the Holy Spirit. One day, the Great One did come. Baptized by John, He walked out of the water. The Holy Spirit descended on Him as a dove and a voice from the opened heavens declared Him to be His beloved and well pleasing Son. 1 John 5:1-9 goes deeper into the significance of this event. While this is a difficult passage, an essential application is that Jesus began His ministry with the Divine testimony at His baptism. It ended with His blood sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins on the cross. The success of Christ’s mission was validated by the Holy Spirit resurrecting Him from the dead (Romans 8:11). We have the witness of God that all of this is true. No surer testimony exists. So, with this in mind, the Apostle directs us to believe that Jesus is the Christ and, in that faith, be born of God into the circle of love between the Trinity and the rest of His redeemed children.
But this faith in Christ is not just an agreement with an undeniable truth. As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says:
The gist of the divine witness or testimony is that eternal life (1 Jn 5:11–12) is given in Christ and nowhere else. To possess the Son is not acceptance of a doctrine but of a person who lives now and provides life.
This is a faith that goes deeper than infant water baptism! It is the working baptism of the Holy
Spirit and is very personal! It is the reconciling of a parent with a child; the prodigal son comes home. Our reading in Isaiah 12:1-6 illustrates a believer’s one-on-one encounter with the Lord for His amnesty through Jesus Christ. God’s anger is turned away and comfort given (vs1). Fear (of punishment) is replaced by trust in the Almighty for salvation (vs2). This new life shows itself with joy, thanksgiving, song, and the gospel testimony of what God has done for them (vs 3-6). In a real relationship with Jesus the world’s futility is swallowed up by an eternal perspective. This life gains purpose and meaning as the believer sees His Lord using it to make him more fit for heaven, the real future.
So, take God up on His amnesty program for yourself. Don’t just go through the motions of life or religion. Come to Jesus! Be forgiven! Trade up for a new existence that comes with just as many problems, true, but with faith that gives a new focus. Do it now! Eternal life is waiting.