January 6, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Tuesday After Epiphany
Reading (1 John 4:7-10) Gospel (St. Mark 6:34-44)
In the first reading today, Saint John tells us that God has testified on behalf of His own Son; and what we just heard in the Gospel reading, the Baptism of the Lord, is precisely the testimony that God has made: You are My Son. The voice of God is heard proclaiming the truth, not so that Jesus would know He was the Son of God, because He is the Son of God from all eternity. Because He has both a divine and a human mind, in His divine mind He knew that perfectly, and in His human mind He also knew that He was the Son of God. He knew that to the fullness of the capacity that He had to be able to understand it because in His human mind He will never be able to understand it fully, but He understood reasonably well that He was indeed the Son of God.
There are some people who would want to say that He did not know this until the time that He was baptized and the voice of God was heard. That is simply not true. Others would like to say, “Well, it was when He was twelve and was in the temple; that’s when He figured it out.” From the first moment of His conception, even in His human mind He knew that He was God. To the degree that an infant child is able to know certain things, Jesus knew. He had the Beatific Vision in His humanity from the first moment of His conception. When we have the Beatific Vision (assuming we get to heaven), we will look at God face to face and we will know God in His very essence only to the degree that we are able, and we will never know Him fully. But as we look upon God, all of the knowledge will be ours. There will not be anything lacking within us other than the simple lack that our finite human mind cannot grasp fully the infinite. Jesus had the exact same problem, if you want to call it a problem, that is, He had a finite human mind and could not grasp fully the infinity of His divinity. However, to the full degree of His ability in His human mind, which even as a newly conceived infant was far beyond that of any of us and in fact all of us combined, He knew that He was God. He had the Beatific Vision, and more than just the Beatific Vision, for Him it was even more profound. When we get to heaven it will be an accidental union. We will look at God but we will not be joined to Him substantially. Jesus is substantially united in His humanity and His divinity. So it was even closer and more profound than what the souls in heaven, the angels, and even Our Lady are able to look upon right now. From the first moment of His conception that was the truth and the reality.
He did not become God – God became man. He is God from all eternity, so when Saint John says that He came in water and in blood that is what He is talking about. The blood is the human nature; the water is the divine nature, water being used in Saint John oftentimes for grace or for the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is the grace of God. He is sanctifying grace, and sanctifying grace is the very life of God. So He has a human life and a divine life. He has a human nature and a divine nature. He is fully God and He is fully man, but He is a divine person and not a human person. That is the point we must be very clear about. Having two natures, both human and divine, He is only one person and that person is a divine person. That person is the Second Person of the Trinity, Who took a human nature in the womb of His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. But His person did not change because it cannot change, because His person is God.
That is the testimony God gave on behalf of His own Son so that the apostles and John the Baptist himself would be able to hear and they would be able to believe. That is what was necessary. Whether it was on Mount Tabor, or whether it was at the Baptism in the Jordan, to understand fully Who this man is and that He is not just like any other. While He is like us in the fact that He has a human nature, He is not a human person but He is God. And because He is God, we are asked to believe in Him and to obey Him. The point Saint John is making in his first reading is that we have been given a commandment – and the commandment is not an unreasonable or unjust commandment because it is about God Himself – and the promise that is attached to following that commandment is nothing less than eternal life. It is merely a matter of justice on our behalf to know and to love and to serve Jesus Christ, but it is the mercy of Christ to offer us the grace of eternal life for doing what we should have done in the first place, that is, to believe in Him and to love Him as we have been commanded to do.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.