Sunday January 9, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Baptism of the Lord
Reading I (Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7) Reading II (Acts 10:34-38)
Gospel (St. Matthew 3:13-17)
In the first reading this morning from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, we have a very important prophecy. It is the first of what are called the Suffering Servant Songs. These four songs (found in Isaiah 42, 49, 50, the end of 52, and all of 53) talk about the future Messiah, the one who is to come into the world as the servant of God and Who is going to suffer for the people. In this prophecy, God, speaking through Isaiah, tells us some very important things about who this servant is going to be and what He is going to be.
If we look at the correlation between the first reading and the Gospel reading, it is quite fascinating to see how Our Lord fulfills this prophecy. For instance, at the very beginning of the reading from Isaiah today, we hear the words about the servant. God says of him, This is My chosen one with whom I am well pleased. And at Our Lord’s baptism, the voice of the Father is heard saying, This is My Son, in whom I am well pleased. We also hear in the prophecy that God has chosen the servant for the victory of justice. In the Gospel reading, Our Lord says to Saint John the Baptist that this is necessary to fulfill all righteousness. The word “justice” and the word “righteousness” are the exact same word, righteousness being a Greek word and justice being a Latin word, but they are the exact same word. And so we see that in the Baptism of Our Lord there is a fulfillment of the prophecy that Isaiah has spoken.
We need to ask ourselves then, “What exactly is this fulfillment of righteousness? What exactly is this victory of righteousness? Why is Our Lord entering into the baptism of John to begin His public ministry as is made clear in the second reading. Certainly, there was no necessity of Our Lord to be baptized because John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin, and Our Lord had no sin. Well, we can look at this in a couple of different ways. First of all, we know that on Calvary, Our Lord, Who knew not sin, became sin for us, as Saint Paul says; and He nailed our sins to the Cross. He took all of our sins onto Himself. Therefore, as He entered into the waters of the Jordan River, it was for our repentance, not for His own, but for the repentance of all of those who would be members of the Mystical Body, all of those who would eventually repent of their sins and seek the mercy of God. Just as He brought our sins with Him to the Cross, so He brought our sins with Him to the Jordan River. And there, in being baptized with a baptism of repentance, He opened the way for each of us, who would eventually be members of His Mystical Body, to repent. Also, as Our Lord enters into the waters of baptism, He prepares the way for each one of us. If this is to fulfill all righteousness but He already is the Righteous One, what is being fulfilled? It is the righteousness of each one of us who would be baptized into Christ. It is through baptism and through the power of the Holy Spirit, Who is the Spirit of Christ and Who has been given to each one of us in our baptism, that we ourselves have become righteous, that justice has been fulfilled in each one of us. And so it is through this baptism of Our Lord on behalf of His Mystical Body that righteousness is given to us.
This also means, of course, that if righteousness is ours, true holiness is ours. God is offering to each one of us to be truly just, which means without sin. It is exactly what happened at the moment we were baptized: We were made truly righteous. Every single sin we had ever committed (or for those of us who were baptized as infants, Original Sin being the only sin that would have been there at the time) was completely removed and we were truly righteous before the Lord. But it was not just a matter that God had given us that righteousness for the moment, but rather it is a call to be righteous, to live in this world as righteous persons, people whose sins are forgiven and who are striving to no longer sin.
But we also see in the first reading today that very important statement of Our Lord, that His servant is going to be the covenant. Recall that we have not entered into a covenant like that of old where God made a covenant with an individual on behalf of the people. This reading tells us, as does Isaiah 49, I will make you a covenant – not “I will make a covenant with you” – but I will make you a covenant to the people. We recall that baptism replaced circumcision in the Old Testament. Our Lord was circumcised because He was born into the law. He had entrance into the Old Covenant through His circumcision, but now He becomes the New Covenant, which we enter into through the waters of baptism. So in baptism, He establishes the New Covenant which supersedes the Old. It does not remove it, but it supersedes it. And so we see that in the waters of baptism, as well as in His circumcision, Our Lord is the savior of both the Jewish people in the Old Covenant and of the Gentiles in the New. And in His person (exactly what Saint Paul tells us in the reading that we heard last week), we have the mystery that the Gentiles are now coheirs with the Jews. In the one Person of Christ, we have the two covenants coming together, and the Jews and the Gentiles are now one.
The beautiful thing of this for us then is if we are called to the righteousness of Christ, we recall that Saint Paul tells us that no one is justified by the law. In other words, no one is made righteous by the law because no one could fulfill it completely. The law is not merely the Ten Commandments, but the 613 precepts of the Old Law. But in Christ there is a New Covenant and there is a new commandment, and the commandment is to love, to love God and to love neighbor. This is the very purpose of our creation, made in the image and likeness of God, Who is Love. Therefore, if we are going to be truly righteous, it is to fulfill the very purpose of our being. It is also a matter that if we are going to call Jesus “Lord” that we must be obedient. And to be obedient to His commandment – to love God and to love neighbor – is to fulfill the purpose of our being; therefore, it is to become truly righteous, to live according to the way that God created us to live. The wonderful thing for all of us, as Saint Paul tells us, is that in this one commandment, to love God and to love neighbor, the entire law is fulfilled. So if this is to fulfill righteousness, and no one can be made righteous according to the law, we have the fulfillment of the law so that we can be truly righteous.
All of this is given to us. It is now, of course, to be able to live the reality that is and has taken place within us. The Holy Spirit has been given to us to make us sons and daughters of God, and if we are living true righteousness then we are truly pleasing to the Lord. The covenant is in us. We have to understand that if we are going to live according to this way of righteousness, it is to live according to the truth, it is to live according to love. But Who is Jesus Christ? He is God, Who is Love. He is God, Who is the Truth. Remember that for those of us who are baptized into Christ, it is not entrance into a covenant of external precepts and external observations, but it is entrance into a covenant who is a Person – a living Person – and that Person is God. Therefore, it is entrance into a living Being and into an internal observance, into an internal change, not merely following the external precepts of the law, but actually having a change of heart so that we are able to love.
Therein lies righteousness. The truth is not merely something external to us to which we give intellectual assent. The truth is the Person into Whom we have been baptized. The truth is the covenant of which we are a part. And love is a Person; once again, the same Person of Whom each one of us is a member. It is not something beyond us, but it is to live the truth in love. In this, all righteousness is fulfilled because if we live the fullness of truth in love then there will be nothing imperfect because the fullness of truth subsists in Jesus Christ and in His Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, and He is Love. We are members of Jesus Christ, which means truth and love have been infused into each one of us. So it is not something beyond us. It is not something we are unable to accomplish. By ourselves, indeed we cannot; but in Him, we can do all things and He can do all things in us.
So if we allow Him, through the power of the Holy Spirit given to each one of us, all righteousness can be fulfilled in us. And the way that righteousness will be fulfilled in us is to accept the truth of who we are, the truth of Who He is, and to be able to live the truth in love, to live according to the covenant into which we have been baptized, and that covenant is the Person of Jesus Christ. To live the life of Christ is the fulfillment of all righteousness, and that is given to each of us to be the sons and daughters of God – in whom He is well pleased.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.