Baptism of the Lord: Gospel – Matthew 3:13-17

"
Am I a Sinner and Servant? "

Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore
on 12 January 2014

In today’s Gospel that we just heard proclaimed Jesus, the Messiah has emerged from His 30 years of private living as a carpenter in Nazareth to be Baptised. With His Baptism, Jesus would begin His public Ministry of proclaiming the Good News of Salvation to all peoples.  John the Baptist never expected that Jesus, the Messiah would come to be Baptised by him.  Jesus had no sins and thus, does not need Baptism.  In fact, John the Baptist had expected the Messiah to chastise and condemn sinners for their sins.

Thus, the Gospel tells us that John tried to dissuade Jesus from being Baptised, but Jesus said, “Leave it like this for the time being; it is fitting that we should, in this way, do all that righteousness demands.”  At this John the Baptist obeyed.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, the fundamental Truth of this scene of the Baptism of Jesus is that Jesus, the Messiah did not condemn sinners.  On the contrary and beyond all expectations, Jesus, the Messiah, who with humility was born in the stable, now with humility first, identifies Himself with all other sinners and second, He comes as a “Servant” to Save, as Prophet Isaiah prophesised in today’s First Reading.

          

Thus, we are each called today to reflect on the truth of ourselves as a “sinner” and a “servant”.  Let us begin by taking note that Christianity did not invent the sufferings of this world. . . Suffering began since the beginning of the human race when Adam and Eve, the First parent of the human race sinned.  They rejected God’s Love because they were proud enough to think that they did not really need God and can live without Him.  They were sure that obeying the temptations of the Devil, was the right thing to do.

One of the most common sins that we commit is to insist that we are right, and others are wrong; worse still, that the Church and God are wrong.  Such insistence is more often than not, signs of our arrogance and pride. The saving grace of John the Baptist in today’s Gospel scene was that he did not insist on his view of what he expected the Messiah to be.  Even as he was taken totally by surprised when Jesus came up to him and asked for Baptism, he obeyed.

             

It is a good exercise for us to reflect on the ways we live and relate to people, and take nothing for granted.  It is good to ask ourselves, “When things do not go our way or when people disagree with us or when people hurt us, do we not have the tendency to react negatively?

One of the main reasons why relationships that we value, including our relationship with God does not grow as much as we wish is because we tend to react and allow our prejudices to control us, instead to responding in Christ-like ways to these situations and people that cause us pain.

To respond in Christ-like ways is to be compassionate to people who have caused us pain and suffering.  This is because in all probability, when people hurt us, they are most probably themselves coping with their own pain and trials in their lives.  This is precisely the case in today’s Gospel scene of the Baptism of Jesus.  When Jesus wants to save sinners, instead of chastising and condemning sinners, He responded with compassion by first identifying Himself with them, even though He has not committed any sins.  We cannot win people over to our side or more importantly over to Christ’s side, if our hearts are not compassionate as Jesus has shown us today.  To be compassionate, we have to feel the other person’s pain with our heart and not simply brush people’s pain aside with our logical thinking that they deserve to suffer because they are paying for their mistakes and sinful living and the like.

Today’s Gospel scene of the Baptism of Jesus is a scene of God’s Compassion for us sinners . . . a God who has taken on the mission to save all peoples without condemning us sinners or anyone.  To reflect on our need to have such compassionate love I like us to ponder on this poem.

I feel your pain
and long to touch the hurt
and make it melt away.

Yes, I know that I can’t really see
the breadth and depth
of this dark valley you’re in.

I can’t truly know just how
sharp the knife is in your soul –
for it is you in its path, not me.

But, I have known other valleys,
and my heart
still bears the knife-wound scars.

Even as I would want walk your road
and take your pain if I could.
I cannot. And yet, perhaps
in some way I can be a hand to hold
in the darkness:
in some way, try to blunt
the sharpness of pain.
But if not – it may help a little
just to know I care.
(Adapted: Christian Ridden)

My sisters and brothers in  Christ, as Jesus is filled with Compassionate Love for us, this Love reveals another dimension of His Love in the First Reading of the Prophet Isaiah,; the prophesises that Jesus the Messiah is a “Suffering-Servant”; a Servant of all servants.

At the scene of the Baptism, the heavens opened and God the Father affirms Jesus, as “My Beloved Son, of whom I am well pleased . . . and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, is seen coming down on Him . . . blessing Him and empowering Him for His Mission of saving the all of mankind . . . but, a Mission that will end on being crucified on the Cross.

            

Are we, who call ourselves to be believers and followers of Jesus, willing to take up our daily crosses that our faith demands of us so that more people are drawn closer to God and attracted to the Gospel of salvation?

No person, and none of us here want suffering and we should fight against suffering when it is unnecessary.  However, as Christians, there is a deeper Truth in life.  In the light of Christ’s Sufferings, we as His followers should see that “suffering” can be opportunities to love others and deepen our relationship with Christ.

Mother Teresa says, “Suffering by itself is nothing; it is useless.  But, suffering shared with Christ in His Passion is a wonderful gift to human life.  It is the most beautiful gift for us to share in the Passion of Christ, yes, and a sign of love, because His Father proved that He loved the world by giving His Son to die for us, and so in Christ’s own life, it was proved that suffering was the greatest gift.  As Our Lord has said, ‘Greater love than this no man has, that He gives His life for His friends . . . and I call you My friends.”  And so, when we suffer for Jesus, this is the greatest love, the undivided love.” (Mother Teresa).

Archbishop Romero of El Salvador, when many priests who stood up for justice were murdered together with innocent lives, he said, “I am glad, brothers and sisters, that they have murdered priests in this country, because it would be very sad if in a country where they are murdering the people so horrifically there were no priests among the victims.  Such mindless killing of priests is a sign that the Church has become truly incarnated and at one with the real living, suffering and issues of the people.

. . . Fr Ignacio Ellacuria, said many times that the specifically Christian task is to fight to eradicate sin by bearing its burden.  This sin brings death, but taking it on gives us credibility.  By sharing in the Cross of the Salvadoreans, the Church becomes Salvadorean and thus credible.  And although in the short term this murder it is a great loss, in the long term it is a great gain: we are building a Church that is really Christian and really Salvadorean.  (Adapted: Jon Sobrino,SJ).


     Jesus came for all people

And so as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that as Jesus was Baptised, far from condemning us for our sins, Jesus revealed His compassionate Love to all peoples by identifying Himself with us and all sinners in the world . . . Likewise, as Baptised Christians, “Are we willing to challenge ourselves to show such Christ-like Compassion to others who are weak and sinful or do we fall into the temptations of self-righteousness?

Prophet Isaiah reveals Jesus as the Suffering Servant; the Messiah who is willing to die in the service of His Father’s Will to save all peoples.  Are we, as Archbishop Romero and Mother Teresa remind us, willing to serve and suffer and thus witness the Gospel of Christ with greater credibility?

Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.

                              

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