Homily – December 4th, 2011
BAPTISM MARK 1:1-8 2ND OF ADVENT December 4, 2011
In John the Baptist, we see a man totally dedicated to the kingdom of God. If he was born of priestly parentage, nonetheless, at the Jordan River he took up an ascetic life in the Judean wilderness. He ate locusts—they are of the grasshopper family, and that suggests wildness in his eating. John the Baptist found honey, wild honey. I suppose he found it in a tree hollow or in a rotted stump. He lived off the land, not well, but ascetically, trusting in God so that he might find food, or else find fasting from food. Desiring to see a holy person, people came from Jerusalem to encounter a man dressed in camel-hair homespun with a strap of leather for a belt. Prophets were made of such stuff. The people were moved to repentance. Jesus appears quite different from John. Jesus does not wear ascetic garb. Nothing in the gospel distinguishes His clothes from the wear of the average person. When Jesus was crucified, we read that the soldiers shot dice for “his garments” (John 19:23-24) but that Jesus’ tunic was one woven piece; it must have had some value, for the soldiers did not tear it. If John found only wild game for food, Jesus on the other hand receives criticism for dining with sinners. Both Jesus and John have disciples, but Jesus’ men become His apostles—His sent ones. Jesus assigns them in pairs to visit villages and to preach there. And with them Jesus eats a famous Last Supper.
John calls out the king and berates the king for living with his brother’s wife. That costs John his own head. Jesus, too, attacks the ruling Scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy, and that will bring about Jesus’ death on the gibbet. Both John the Baptist and Jesus urge us to baptism.
The gospels of Saint Mark and Saint John begin by describing John the Baptist at the Jordan River. Here the ascetic preacher draws so many from the Judean countryside and from the capital Jerusalem. The people flock to this river spot, coming to hear a godly speaker, and to be moved toward changing the immorality in their way of life. These people realized first the foulness in their life, and secondly resolve to rid themselves of it. So they confess their sins and manifest a conversion to a new way of living. Responding to the Baptist, they next plunge into the river in their desire to wash away, symbolically, their failings. Thus the participants achieve a cleanness of spirit, a ceremonial washing that enables them to enter the Jerusalem temple and to participate with the prayerful. With these people, John the Baptist fulfills his purpose. He prepares the way of the Lord by way of this ceremony, awakens the populace to the presence of the Messiah.
Like John the Baptist, Jesus Christ urges baptism, although Jesus effects quite a different result. After Jesus has suffered death on the cross, after His resurrection, as He assembles His disciples together on a mountain plain, Jesus speaks to them. “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). Thus the urging toward baptism.
In contrast to the ceremonial washing with John the Baptist, Jesus institutes a sacrament, a cleansing with water and with the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells Nicodemus: “”Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit…. You must be born from above. The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit”(John 3:5-8). On TV a day or two ago, we heard of the Santa Anna wind roaring over one hundred miles per hour; it blew down trees, toppled electrical poles, and tore off roofs. Just as that wind affected us deeply, so the Spirit coming in baptism affects us, and influences in all our living.
The Holy Spirit received in Baptism unites the individual to Christ and to all Christians. A baptized person comes into the community of Christians (I Cor. 12:13). This sacrament pardons all sins, rescues recipients from the power of Satan, and it joins the recipient to Christ in His suffering, death and Resurrection (Rom 6:4; Eph 2:6; Col 3:1; 2 Tim 2:11). At Baptism, the priest traces a cross on the forehead, and the priest invites the parents and godparents to do the same; it marks the person as a Christian.
Sometimes it happens that a person, baptized as an infant, does not practice the faith. This person may honestly pray the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father. He or she may receive the sacrament of Anointing when seriously ill. And this person may eventually feel Christianity in a funeral Mass. This person throughout life remains a Christian, and the Holy Spirit never ceases His presence and his urging. Baptism endures.
John the Baptist prepared with a ceremonial baptism for the coming of the Messiah. Although living in the same age and even having some of the same disciples, the Baptist differed essentially from the Messiah. Jesus Christ established Baptism as a sacrament, as a source of grace, as an enduring testament and lasting presence of the Holy Spirit. Amen!