Fr. Bryan Howard
The Baptism of the Lord – 12 January 2020
The ancient Greeks had a mythical story about Prometheus. Prometheus was a Titan, but feeling sorry for humanity, he stole fire from the god Hephaestus and gave it to us. The fire symbolized life, science and philosophy, and power. Zeus punished Prometheus for giving this gift to humanity by chaining him to a rock and having an Eagle attack him every day and letting him heal every night. He punished humanity by unleashing toil, illness, war, and death, forever separating humanity from the gods. The Greeks, like most pagan cultures, thought that there was competition between the gods and humanity, and they tried to placate the gods and win their favor by making offerings, sacrifices, and gifts to them.
The ancient Israelites, and Christians following them, see God in a different light. God created us from nothing and breathed life into us not because He needed anything from us, but because He wanted to share His own life with us. Then, He continued to poor out His gifts and graces on us, every day. He even gave us the law to show us how to live good lives. However, every time we sin, we reject God and His place in our lives. At the heart of every sin, from the smallest venial sin to the worst mortal sin, is a little voice inside us saying, “I know better than God. I can decide what’s right and wrong for myself.” Through sin we alienated ourselves from God, we rejected His love, grace, and friendship, and we had no way to win it back for ourselves.
If the Greeks believed that Zeus punished Prometheus for giving humanity fire, then Christians believe that God Himself, Jesus Christ the Son of God, came down to bring us the light of truth and to restore us to the friendship of God. Remember that Jesus said, “I have come to set the world on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing,” and St. John the Baptist said of Jesus, “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
When Jesus began His public ministry He was already almost 30 years old. Notice what John said, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” He realized that Jesus didn’t need to be baptized because Jesus had never sinned. He had nothing to repent. He didn’t need to be restored to grace, because He is the source of all grace. Jesus told him, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” In other words, this had to happen; it was part of God’s plan. Then, after Jesus was baptized, the heavens were torn open, the Spirit of God descended on Him, and God the Father spoke, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” That didn’t happen for Jesus, that all happened for us, to show us what happens in baptism. The waters of baptism didn’t sanctify Jesus, Jesus sanctified the water, so that the water could then sanctify us in our baptisms.
When we are baptized, what happened visibly at Jesus’ baptism happens invisibly in our souls. The Holy Spirit floods into our souls, filling us with God’s grace and giving us the life of the Spirit of God. It forgives all of our sins and unites us to Jesus Christ. We become, like Jesus, children of God, sons and daughters of God with whom God is well pleased.
After His baptism, what did Jesus do? First, to prepare Himself, He spent 40 days in the desert fasting and praying. Then, He began His public ministry, doing great miracles and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. He finished by showing us what the Christian life is all about, but offering His life for ours on the Cross as a total gift of love.
We, too, have been baptized. We’ve received the Spirit of God, the grace and life of the Holy Spirit. We’ve become children of God. But do we live like it? Do our words and actions reflect the love of God to the people around us? We get caught up in our own problems, we judge one another, we try to get back at one another, and we begin to hate one another, or brothers and sisters in Christ, because we follow a different religion, vote for a different party, or have a different color skin. The big thing these last few years has been tolerance. We should be tolerant of different ideas, different people, different lifestyles. On the contrary, Jesus didn’t tell us to tolerate one another. He didn’t give the commandment to be nice to one another. He said, “Love one another as I have loved you,” and to love even our enemies and pray for them.
Let’s recommit ourselves to following Jesus Christ and to doing what He did. In your words and in your actions, proclaim the Kingdom of God. Share your love of God with others. Don’t hesitate to stand with Christ, even if that means that some people will reject you. Some people rejected Christ, and when we follow Him some people will reject us, too. Don’t fall into the temptation to right them off, to reject them back. Continue to pray for them and treat them with love and compassion.
Christianity is revolutionary because we see that we don’t have to be in competition with God, as if God is up there with a grading sheet for each one of us, just waiting for us to do something wrong so He can condemn us to hell. No, God is constantly giving us little graces, little reminders, little nudges to help us live life to the full so we won’t be weighed down with sin, bitterness, and hatred, but will be free to live in the light.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.