Summary: Jesus came to take away sin; the sin of the United States is a sin against life. Only prayer, fasting and clear, urgent action can move us in the right direction.
Baptism of the Lord Jesus
January 9, 2010
Today’s Gospel relates one of the big questions of the early Church. All four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles relate at least once the story of the baptism of Jesus by John. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. Those who came to John were acknowledging their sinfulness. The problem is that here we have John, who was cleansed of original sin by the presence of Jesus while he was just a six month old in his mother’s womb, asking Jesus to baptize him. And we hear of Jesus, born of a sinless Virgin, and Himself like us in all things except sin, accepting baptism from John. Have we been kidding ourselves for two thousand years? Are John and Jesus really sinners like the rest of us?
To understand fully the baptism administered by John, our own sacrament of baptism, and Jesus’s role in baptism, would take a long study. Even then we would just scratch the surface of the reality. But let’s go back to the first baptism in the Jordan, with another one named Jesus–Jah-shua. It was over a thousand years earlier, when the people of Israel came out of the desert to invade Palestine. Their leader, whom we call Joshua, summoned the people to him. The ark of the covenant was carried into the Jordan River and instantly it dried up, allowing Israel to cross over dry-shod, just as they had when delivered from Egypt forty years earlier. Joshua called the people to obedience, and the uncircumcised among them were circumcised. They became full members of the people of God, and promised their undying obedience to the one true God.
Jesus went down into the pool by the river and submitted to John pouring water over His head for exactly the same reason–to symbolically promise undying obedience to the Father. The Father replied, anointing Jesus with the Holy Spirit–this is my Son, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased. As the first Jah-shua and his people promised divine obedience, and received divine confirmation and anointing, so the last Jah-shua, the Son of God, promised obedience, and received divine anointing. And as He did, He forever changed the meaning of baptism, so that when one of the priests or deacons baptizes a child or adult, any sin really is taken away, and the parents or adult recipient promise obedience to God’s law. The root meaning of baptism is a promise of obedience. And, for those of us who are sinners–I and all of you–it means that at baptism, and every time we confess our sins, and even at every communion, we come to God repenting of our sins and promising to obey his commandments. This is how we express our solidarity with Jesus, who came to obey the Father, as both Son and Servant of God, and thus we together fulfill all righteousness.
St. Proclus said it well, “Christ appeared in the world, and, bringing beauty out of chaos, gave it luster and joy. He bore the world’s sin and crushed the world’s enemy. He sanctified the fountains of waters and enlightened the minds of men.” (PG 65, 758)
Chaos and sin are products of disobedience. Beauty and joy are products of obedience. The United States of America are now living out the pain and chaos of the sin of disobedience. Each January we are reminded of how far we have fallen, so far that we have legitimated and institutionalized the murder of the innocent. The only way back to beauty and joy is to regain an understanding of God’s law, and to pursue it wholeheartedly. Let me explain.