HOMILY FOR THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD – THE FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR B

HOMILY FOR THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD – THE FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR B

Isaiah 55:1-11; Psalm – Isaiah 12:2-6; 1John 5:1-9; Mark 1:7-11

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Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai: Benefits of Baptism 

Fr Galadima Bitrus, OSA:  Repentance and Rebirth

Fr. Paul Oredipe: Renewal of Faith in the New Life in Baptism

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Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai

Benefits of Baptism 

Today’s Gospel reading presents us with what we may regard as the second Epiphany – the Baptism of the Lord that revealed him as the beloved son of God (Mark. 1:7-11 or Matt.3:16). The first Epiphany was the manifestation of Jesus Christ to the world (Matt.2:1-2); while in the third Epiphany or manifestation Jesus changed water into wine that revealed his glory and his disciples believed in him (John 2:1-11).  The Baptism of the Lord is the feast day commemorating the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. The feast of the Baptism of the Lord traditionally marks the end of the Christmas season as well as the beginning of the Ordinary Time of the Church’s year and Liturgical calendar. The next special season is Lent which begins February 17th; followed by another special season – the 50-days Easter season and the celebration of Pentecost. Then “Ordinary Time” continues for some months until Advent, which begins on November 28th then Christmas season. May God keep us through this period in health of mind and body through Christ our Lord! Amen.

The Baptism of the Lord: It marks the beginning of his public ministry. Therefore anyone who wants to begin the Christian life must first be baptized. Among the Seven Sacrament; baptism is one of the sacraments of Christian initiation. So only those who have gone through this imitation are worthy of the name Christians. Penny Catechism – a book of Christian Doctrine defines Baptism “as a sacrament which cleanses us from original sin makes us Christians, children of God and members of the Church.” The implication of this is that if you are not yet baptize you are not yet free from original sin, you are not yet a Christians, you not recognize as a child of God and you are not a member of the Church. More so, according to today’s reading it equally means that God is not pleased with you, because at Jesus’ baptism the Father spoke saying “you are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mark1:11).

At the Baptism of the Lord three significant events happened: Heaven was opened, the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form, as a dove; and a voice came from heaven.  These events speak about the benefits of baptism we shall look at them closely and draw some inspirations from them.

1.Heaven was opened: One of the benefits of Baptism is open heaven. An open heaven is something that was prophesied in Isaiah 64:1 it’s a prayer, a prophecy with an intercessory cry, where the prophet cries out “Oh that You would rend the heavens and come down”. To rend the heavens as in Ps. 104:2 is to tear the Heavens open like a curtain. Therefore open heaven indicates that all dualism is broken down – between God and humanity, between humanity and nature. Open heaven breaks the yoke of ancestral curses and connections. It gives us  free access to everything in heavenly realms. Every beloved child has free access to his father’s palace. Just as baptism brings about open heaven and the rain of God blessings; without baptism we are faced with closed heaven.  Closed heaven is another way of saying there is a barrier between heaven and earth. It is when the “prince of the power of the air” has dominion and the power to suppress us from being able to connect with God and receive from Him. Therefore let us seek baptism and have an experience of open heaven. Open heaven also refers to open doors and baptism opens the door to other sacraments.  In other words Baptism is a condition for other sacraments.

2.The Holy Spirit descended: Another benefit of Baptism is the decent of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus was Baptize the Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove. At baptism we all receive the Holy Spirit which is later confirmed at the Sacrament of Confirmation. We receive the Holy Spirit to carry out the duties for which we came to earth. Through the gift of the Spirit we are at our best. Through the Holy witness becomes our primary business. The Holy Spirit enables us to do good Acts 10:38 “how Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit and he went about doing good…” so know that if you are not able to do any good the Holy Spirit is absent in your life. Rom 8:26 the Spirit helps us in our weakness and it helps us to pray. The Holy Spirit is the Energizer of the word spoken by the Son. He is the Executor, the One who brings God’s plan to reality and fulfillment. The Holy Spirit is the one who can lead us to the complete truth especially in this generation where there is so much confusion, John 16:13 tells us that the Holy Spirit will lead us to the complete truth. Again, the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove. Dove in biblical parlance is a symbol of peace, a symbol of God’s presence and a symbol of a messenger. These go to show that after our baptism we should become carrier of God’s presence, his messenger of peace.

3.A voice came from heaven: Another benefit of Baptism is that it enables us to hear God’s voice. We live in a world of many voices and only one voice is reliable and unfailing. 1Cor. 14:10 there are many kind of voices and none of them is without meaning. Today, everybody is speaking and nearly everyone is preaching, the social media is loaded with lots of barking sermons and teachings from various corners of life. Today, the economy is speaking politicians are talking comedians are taking, musicians are not quiet in fact there is so much noise – voices everywhere, the security is crying, parents are shouting; family problems are yell at us; children are pleading and so on. Beloved in the midst of these voices only one voice is reliable and that is the voice of God. Beloved, at his baptism the voice of God spoke – after baptism you enjoy the benefits of hearing God’s voice John10:27 says my sheep hears my voice and they follow me. This voice directs you in the right way. Isaiah 30:21 assures us that if we wander off the road to the left or the right, we shall hear your voice say to us “Here is the road. Follow it” Beloved, follow the voice of Christ; if you follow the voice of man you shall wallow in pains.  Gen. 16:2 Abram followed  the voice of Sarah and committed blunder. If you don’t want to fall into errors listen to the voice of God. This voice is available in the Scriptures, the Teaching office of the Church and in prayers.

Finally, for those who have not yet received baptism; the first reading is an invitation to baptism it says “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters […] buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Baptism is free; go for baptism; only then you can draw water with joy from the wells of salvation. Again, for those already baptized the second reading invites us to live out the promptings of our call. It calls us to love those whom we come in contact with, for we cannot say we love God and hate our brothers and sisters. Lord Jesus help us and lead us to salvation.

Fr Galadima Bitrus, OSA

 Repentance and Rebirth

Eight days after the Feast of the manifestation of the Lord Jesus to the nations (Epiphany), we are celebrating the Feast of the Lord’s baptism, a rite that marked the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.

John the Baptist was his precursor and had come to prepare the way for him. In taking over from John the baton of preaching repentance, the forgiveness of sins and the coming of the kingdom of God, Jesus submitted himself to be baptized by John, thus, aligning himself with the activity of the Baptist and perfecting it with the gift of the Holy Spirit as John himself had preannounced: “I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8).

Today’s Gospel Reading (Mark 1:7-11) presents the account of the baptism of Christ by John at the Jordan River, which immediately follows the presentation of the identity and mission of John the Baptist, where John had been presented as the baptizer dressed in camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, eating locusts and wild honey, in the desert preaching the baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins, and at the Jordan baptizing people coming from all across Judea (Mark 1:1-6).

The Gospel passage presents the Baptist’s words concerning Jesus and his encounter with Jesus. He speaks of Jesus as the one coming after him but who is superior to him in status (Mark 1:7) and in mission (Mark 1:8). Regarding their encounter, Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee comes to him at the River Jordan in Judea to be baptized (Mark 1:9). As he was being baptized, the spirit from heaven comes upon him and a voice (of God) from heaven proclaims him as his Son with whom he is well pleased (Mark 1:10-11).

Thus, in his baptism, Jesus teaches us as sinners to answer the call to repentance and to welcome God’s offer of forgiveness of our sins, as John preached. In his being baptized despite being sinless, he shows us other benefits of baptism:

+ At baptism we become adopted sons of God in Christ and we receive the gift of the holy spirit. While the baptism of John was only by water and therefore of repentance and forgiveness of sins, Jesus perfects it into an occasion of adoption to sonship with God, wherein we come to know God’s love in a personal way when he says to us: “You are my son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11).

+Baptism becomes also a privileged occasion to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit necessary to withstand and overcome as we get into the real world characterized by trials and temptations that will test our faithfulness to God as well as our relationship with the world (see Mark 1:12-13).

In the 1st Reading (Isaiah 55:1-11), Deutro-Isaiah invites his addressees who are described as thirsty to come for water and those who are described as without money to come and acquire food, wine and milk at no cost (Isaiah 55:1). 

Clearly, this cannot be a discourse on physical food and drink but a metaphor for something more profound, the word of God. Hence, the addressees are called upon to give heed, harken and incline their ears to God who gives the choicest food and the richest viands, and who makes an everlasting covenant with the people just as he had made with David (Isaiah 55:2-5), adopting them to be his sons just as he had adopted David (2 Samuel 7:14-16).

The passage further calls for repentance and promises forgiveness (Isaiah 55:6-7), central aspects of the baptism which John had preached, which we can be certain about because the Lord who calls us to repentance and promises us forgiveness is trustworthy. His words are not like human words; they are far above human words and are characterized by unfailing efficacy like the rains that drop from heaven and are sure to water the earth (Isaiah 55:8-11).

The use of the metaphor of rain/water to express the efficacy of the Lord’s providence and forgiveness leads us to the theme of water as an essential element of baptism which places us in a special relationship with God, as we saw in the Gospel Reading above and as we will see in the 2ndReading below.

The 2nd Reading is from the 1stLetter of Saint John 5:1-9. This letter is considered alongside the 2ndand 3rd letters, as well as the Gospel of St. John, as constituting a body of writings referred to as the “Johannine corpus” coming from a Johannine theological school of thought, for two reasons:

  1. They share a common vocabulary, frequently using words such as truth and lies, light and darkness.
  2. They also share a common theological outlook characterized by a dualistic worldview.

The letter is most commonly considered to have been written between A.D. 100-110, probably in Syria or at Ephesus in Western Asia Minor (modern Turkey). For its lack of the typical elements of a letter such as salutation, identification of sender and recipients, the letter is considered as essentially an exhortation or persuasive essay, wherein the author tries to emphasize the two natures of Christ- divine and human- against those who may have found a strictly divine portrayal of Jesus more appealing. Therefore, he emphasizes the fact of the incarnation, positing that confessing Jesus as come in the flesh (see 4:2) is the true demonstration of a spirit that comes from God.

Central to the passage of today’s 2ndReading is the author’s emphasis on the fact that Jesus is the Messiah and Son of God, who came not just by water but by water and blood (1 John 5:6).

Coming by water and spirit is a reference to Jesus’ divine origin while coming by blood refers to his humanity and his being born of flesh. In the Gospel of John 3:5-6, the distinction is made between that which is born of water and spirit or being born from above, and that which is born of flesh.

While the celebration of the baptism of Jesus focuses our contemplation on the revelation of Jesus’ divine nature, the fact that he is the Son of God, the 2nd Reading helps us to contemplate this mystery without emptying or sacrificing the mystery of his humanity. For he is “the one who came by water and blood, not with the water only but with the water and the blood” (1 John 5:6).

To be Christian, therefore, is not to be either spiritual or bodily, heavenly or earthly, it is not a choice of either/or. A Christian is a child of two worlds and must fulfill his duties for both the city of men and the city of God:

+We live in this world with our minds set on the things of heaven (contrast with Matthew 16:23).

+We love God by observing his commandments in this world (1 John 5:2-3; John 14:15) and by loving our neighbour (Luke 10:27; Matthew 22:37-39; Mark 12:30-33; cf. also Leviticus 19:18).

+And we know that whatsoever we do to one of these little ones, we are doing it to God (Matthew 25:40.45).

As we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, may the Lord’s forgiveness give value to our daily journey of repentance and perfect it with his Holy Spirit which unites us in a personal way with God as children and father, revealing to us how much he loves us and how much we need to love him in one another, how much we must be pleased to have God as our father!

Fr. Paul Oredipe

Renewal of Faith in the New Life in Baptism

Last week, we celebrated the feast of the Epiphany – the manifestation of the Lord as the salvation of all nations, all races, all cultures, all peoples, indeed the whole world.  This is the last Sunday of the Christmas Season and the First Sunday of Ordinary time. 

Today, we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus, the first public event in His life.  Jesus was baptized.  Is it not odd and confusing that the Saviour was baptized?  Why did He allow Himself to be baptized, even when there was hesitation and protestation from John the Baptist himself?  Does He need any baptism at all?  Is it not John himself who should be baptized by Jesus?  Why in the name of heaven should Jesus, the Perfect Man, the True God, also receive baptism?  How could He do that? 

The answers to these questions are in the Bible itself. 

 For some time, John the Baptist, the son of Zachary and Elizabeth and Jesus’ cousin, had been prophesying the imminent coming of the Messiah and baptizing people along the Jordan.  Everyone in Judea and Jerusalem flocked to hear him, and many people thought that he was the messiah.  John’s baptism was not a new rite.  It was a practice long known to pious Jews.  If someone wanted to change his way of life or to rise out of his spiritual mediocrity, he had himself baptized to affirm his desire for perfection and at the same time to be purified from his past faults. 

As such, John’s baptism was baptism of repentance.  John’s baptism was only the first step in a journey.  It was only an external sign of the wish for a new way of life, but it did not change the hearts of people.  It was only a start.  John himself made it perfectly clear when he said:  I baptize you with water to show that you have repented, but the one who will come after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  “He is much greater that I am; and I am not good enough even to carry his sandals” (Matt. 3:11) 

As the Son of God and God himself, Jesus could never have any sins that He would have had to renounce or repent of them.  That He submitted to the baptism of John, there must have been a reason or reasons behind it. 

  1. Identification with us: 

 Like other pious Jews, Jesus let John baptize Him in the Jordan.  In the account of Jesus’ baptism, we are told that Jesus is baptized “when all the people were baptized” (along with others).  It is as if the fact that everyone was receiving baptism was sufficient reason for Jesus to receive it also.  Be that as it may, we have seen that from the time of His birth Jesus led the ordinary life of a typical Jewish boy.  He was circumcised and then presented in the Temple in accordance with the traditional rites.  He took part in the customary pilgrimages to Jerusalem, as we know from the incident which took place when He was twelve years old.  Nothing distinguishes Jesus from other people.  He is a typical Jewish youth, faithfully following the dictates of the law.  

And the same applies to His baptism by John.  His faithfulness itself is a lesson.  In Matthew’s account, when John protested, Jesus answered that “thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” Matt. 3:14-15.  Jesus wants to make clear that He is truly at one with His whole nation.  He is not just a Jew observing all the Jewish ways, traditions and customs.  He is also a human being sharing all the aspects of the human condition. 

This point is of capital importance in trying to understand who Jesus is.  Jesus did not have any sin or guilt for which He had to ask pardon.  His baptism is not to be explained as a way of expressing repentance for some fault He had committed.  In seeking baptism and adopting the attitude of a penitent throughout His life, Jesus wants to espouse man’s desire to seek justification and peace from God.  Jesus’ baptism is a precious and valuable thing for this reason alone.  It shows Jesus to be one of us, to be deeply and bodily in tune with our unrest, our longing, and our yearning for something true and pure. 

That is the first message of this baptism: that Jesus identifies with us in our condition, in solidarity with all human beings.  The Lord desired to be baptized, says St. Augustine, so that He might freely proclaim through His humility what for us was to be a necessity. (Sermon, 51, 33)  As St. Paul says: “For our sakes God made him who did not know sin, to be sin, so that in him we might become the very holiness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).  The baptism of Jesus was therefore appropriate because in this way He was accepting His mission as God’s suffering servant who would take our sins upon Himself, and die for us on the cross. 

  There are other messages and explanations. 

  1. Sanctification of water 

One early Christian writer, St. Proclus of Constantinople had this to say:  “The baptism of Jesus was not a case of him being sanctified by the water he was baptized in.  It was rather a case of him sanctifying that water and with it, all other waters in the whole world, thereby giving them the power to sanctify us”.  This can be explained in this way: Before Christ came, no water anywhere had any power to sanctify or make anyone holy.  That is why John the Baptist’s baptism was only a baptism of repentance, and not one of sanctification or rebirth or regeneration, like our own Christian baptism instituted by Christ. 

But when Jesus went into the water of the river Jordan to be baptized by John, God, you might say, washed Himself into that water.  At that very moment, that water became Sanctified water, Holy water, even ‘Divinised water’.  Consequently, the sanctification of the river Jordan at the Baptism of Jesus must somehow have passed into all other waters everywhere.  As a result of this, all those waters have been empowered to bring sanctification to all who are washed in them in the name of Jesus. 

This is what happened at Christian baptism: with the invocation of the name of the Blessed Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), the salvific and sanctifying power that was bestowed on water 2021 years ago by the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, is released to cleanse and sanctify us; something that could not happen before Jesus had Himself been washed in the Jordan and before He instituted the Sacrament of Baptism. 

     3.Vindication – Approval by God: 

 “You are my Son, the Beloved!  My favour rests on you”  What more evidence do we need to know who is Jesus, to follow Him?  The Father Himself gave confirmation to the person and mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit was also at work.  The Father testifies to the Son. 

As John wrote in his letter: “We accept the testimony of human witnesses, but God’s testimony is much greater, and this is God’s testimony, given as evidence for His Son.  Everybody who believes in the Son of God has this testimony inside him; and anyone who will not believe God is making God out to be a liar, because he has not trusted the testimony God has given about his Son.  This is the testimony: God has given us eternal life and this life is in his Son; anyone who has the Son has life, anyone who does not have the Son does not have life.” (1 Jn. 5: 9-12)  If only we follow the voice “Listen to him”. 

   4.Beginning – Anticipation of Baptism of death: 

That the Father pointed Jesus out as His Beloved Son is very significant.  The prophet Isaiah told us about it long ago: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom my soul delights.  I have endowed him with my spirit that he may bring true justice to the nations.”  For a long time the people have been waiting for this “servant” prophesied by Isaiah.  This servant would inaugurate a new era.  This man would be God’s ambassador. 

 As Peter describes Him in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles: “God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power.”  He is going to change and transform everything.  He is appointed for that task and invested with the power of God’s Spirit.  His baptism affirms His function as God’s servant, and Isaiah tells us what that function is: “to open the eyes of the blind, to free captives from prison, and those who live in darkness from the dungeon.”  The Baptism of Jesus therefore signals the beginning of something very different, which will come about through the work of this “servant”. 

In His baptism, Jesus also looked forward to the baptism that He would undergo on the cross.  “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how I am constrained until it is accomplished” (Lk. 12:50).  So this baptism of Jesus points to that other baptism of His passion, crucifixion and death on the cross. 

The one from John is an anticipation, foreshadowment of the bloody baptism which is the torment of humiliation which Isaiah predicted for God’s servant.  Even at the outset of His mission, Jesus was ready for His passion and death.  In love and obedience, He submitted to the Father’s will, and as He accepted the baptism of water, so He would accept the baptism of death that saved us from our sins (Mark 10: 38, 45). 

     Origin – Model of our Baptism: 

The Baptism of Jesus is also a model for our own.  In Baptism, we are joined to Jesus, and share in His death and resurrection.  We must die in order to live.  We descend into the water with Jesus and rise with Him so that we can live a new life free from sin.  Just as the Spirit came down on Jesus, so He descends on us at our baptism, and the Father tells us that we too are His beloved children in whom He delights.  The Spirit that empowered Jesus to make His new beginning is the same Spirit that empowered us in our baptism. 

To be baptized is to be Christened, which means to be made like Christ.  The Sacrament, however, only begins this.  It is like the planting of a seed.  It will take a lifetime for this seed to grow and ripen, for the image of Christ to be formed in us. 

This year, 2021, is another opportunity to grow, to produce fruits worthy of God. 

Brothers and sisters, the Lord is patient with us.  He has given us time for our use and benefit.  How are we using this gracious opportunities?  Do we let fear and anxiety extinguish the light of Christ in us?  We have not received the Spirit of slavery or timidity but the Spirit of adoption enabling us to cry out “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15). 

How proud, dedicated, confident and committed are we that we are baptized?  Some people shy away from their Christian identity and faith for different reasons: economic or political.  Some others even deny their Christian identity outrightly in the face of the slightest difficulty. 

At His Baptism, Jesus Christ was empowered by the Holy Spirit.  We too have been given this great gift.  How are we disposed to let it work?  The Holy Spirit is a power that transforms us interiorly, that stimulates man’s thirst for spiritual growth.  It is a power of conviction, of cleansing the heart and of strengthening the will. 

When this power enters dormant Christians, they become active and enthusiastic.  When this power enters into those who are dead in sin, they become alive.  When the Spirit came to Moses, the plagues came upon Egypt; when the Spirit came upon Elijah, fire came down from heaven; when the Spirit came upon Joshua, the whole city of Jerusalem fell into his hands.  But when the Spirit came upon Jesus at His Baptism, the Spirit empowered Him to heal and to teach, to give up His life on the cross for humanity and finally to rise from the dead. 

Ever since the Lord ascended into heaven, the same Holy Spirit has continued to descend upon His faithful followers.  If martyrs suffered torture, missionaries worked in foreign lands, married couples persevered in fidelity and monks went into the desert, they were able to do all these in the power of the Spirit.  The same Spirit has been guiding the Church in the way of truth and unity.  Constantly, the Spirit renews the Church, to keep the freshness of her youth.  It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that soon the priest will change bread and wine into the Sacred Body and Blood of Christ. 

By Baptism, we too, have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.  Still, our baptism is not the only time we are empowered by the Spirit.  The great medieval theologian, Thomas Aquinas, spoke of “new sending in the Spirit”, times of grace when God enlivens people in special ways for different tasks.  The Spirit does not retire at our baptism.  He is not shy about helping adults.  We should all pray for the sending of the Spirit, particularly when we face change and important decisions. 

The Spirit of God is the power behind new beginnings.  If we are willing to begin, He is there to grace our new venture in faith.  Whenever we are healed and enlightened, we should realize that this power is operative.  Whenever we are enabled to endure difficulties and disappointment, whenever we are strengthened to survive losses and disasters, let us remember that it is by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Whenever the Spirit comes into any believer, He makes Christ dearer (loved), heaven nearer and the word of God clearer. 

On this feast of our Lord’s Baptism, which is also our feast, let us renew our faith in the new life we received in Baptism.  Let us be constantly in touch with the Holy Spirit (God’s remote control) who will replace the tension within us with a holy relaxation; who will replace the anxiety within us with a quiet conscience; who will replace the bitterness within us with the sweetness of grace; and who will replace the coldness within us with a loving warmth. Let us today with Jesus renew our baptismal commitment to bear witness to the Good News of the kingdom of God in word and in deeds. 

Let us pray:  

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful; And enkindle in them the fire of your love.  Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created; And you shall renew the face of the earth.  O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit instructed the heart of the faithful, grant that in the same Spirit, we may be truly wise and ever rejoice in His divine consolation.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen 

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Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Auchi, Edo State, Nigeria. He was ordained October 20th, 2018. He offers his daily homilies, talks and articles that bother on, faith, theology, morals and many other burning issues in religion and politics. Fr. Daniel writes poems, inspirational quotes and clips.

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