15 January, 2014

Homily for the Baptism of the Lord (A) 2014

Matthew 3:13-17

John would have prevented him [from being baptised] but Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so.’
In the year after I left fulltime training, a sizable number of students and members of staff from across the university joined forces in a charity fundraising event called Oxford Sleep Out. Each person taking part in the initiative slept outdoors for one night braving the wintery weather raising both money and awareness about the serious problem of homelessness in the city. By giving up one night in their beds these people tried to share the difficulties of those who have no choice but to sleep on the hard cold surface our streets night after night.

I am sure there are many similar charitable initiatives across the nation but the point of my anecdote is this: if this is what people would do to help complete strangers, what would they do to help somebody they loved? Indeed, what would you do to help someone you love?
Suddenly, sharing someone else’s condition for one night doesn’t appear weird and – more importantly – doesn’t seem enough. If the person in difficulties be it through sickness, poverty, depression or what else, is someone you really love you might want to be with them for as long as it takes, trying to weather the storm together. You might want to share their physical struggles and every precious moment with them, thus showing in a tangible way the love you have for them.

John would have prevented him [from being baptised] but Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so.’
In the feast of the Baptism of Christ we see this; God, who in humility lowered himself to assume the human nature, now numbers himself among the sinners. In humility the Lord comes to the banks of the river Jordan where John was receiving all kinds of men and women – in fact all kinds of unwanted men and women too. Jesus comes among these people asking John to baptise him and so to count him officially among the number of the repenting sinners. The one who is without any fault, sin, or stain comes to share our condition to a further degree; further abandoning his divine glory that he might be with us for as long as it takes, trying to weather the storm with us. In so doing Jesus fulfils the will of the Father to meet humanity in his Beloved Son and he is manifested as the Saviour foretold in the ancient prophecies.

Jesus saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’
Today’s feast shows us two important aspects of our faith: first, Our Lord’s limitless love for each of us; a love that shows no partiality; a love that prompts Jesus to share in our struggles, numbering himself as one of us in every respect. Secondly, this feast shows us the pattern of the Christian vocation; imitating Christ, we too are called to lay aside all those things that prevent us from reaching out. We are called to love with the love of Christ and to make ourselves one with the marginalised, with the poor, and with those who suffer.

And yet again, lowering ourselves and reaching out in humility and compassion are very difficult tasks to perform. All too often we bestow our charity on others from on high as if we were feeding seagulls from the pier – with a bit of guilt, a bit of fear, a bit of resentment if the birds get too close – and God forbids they should soil our clothes!
To Love with the love of Christ is difficult and demanding, there is no easy way about it. But is we genuinely do all that what we can to follow the example of Jesus we will see the Holy Spirit descending like a dove and alighting on the Church with a voice from heaven saying, ‘These are my sons and daughters, in whom I am well pleased’.

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