What are you doing here? We ask that question when we encounter someone we did not expect to be where we are at the present moment. At times we are grateful for the unexpected surprise. Other times we are thinking “what does that person want?” And at other times we are not happy to see someone we did not expect. Today we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus. Why did Jesus come to be baptized by John the Baptist? Surely He did not need to turn away from sin or try to wash away guilt. As it says in the first part of the Eucharistic Prayer IV: “Father, you so loved the world that in the fullness of time you sent your only Son to be our Savior. He was conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary, a man like us in all things but sin.” People came to John the Baptist because they were searching for peace. They recognized the tension that sin caused in their lives and wanted to find peace. John the Baptist baptized people not just to help them wash away sin and its effects but even more to prepare them to rise to life with God.
The Gospel for today’s Mass (Luke 3:15-16, 21-22) tells us that when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist the voice from heaven said, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” Jesus came to save us from life without God. He began His public ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing by meeting people where they were. He not only came to take away our sins and enable us to rise above them, even more He came to bring us into His life. He came to open our minds and hearts to see what He sees, to hear what He hears, and to know mentally and experientially His way, truth, love, and life. The first reading at Mass today (Isaiah 42:1-4,6-7) says:
“Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
upon whom I have put my spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations,
not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
a bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching."
Jesus did not come with force, threats, or ultimatums, He came with a merciful, compassionate heart that exuded unconditional love for all who came into His presence. Joining with those who sought to change their lives with the help of John the Baptist, Jesus powerfully but gently came to give Himself to us. One of the blessings I have as a priest is to pray the words of absolution over those who confess their sins. I am always inspired with hope and the love of God as I pray these words of absolution:
“Through the ministry of the Church may God grant you pardon and peace, I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Jesus wants us all to know His pardon and peace. He is our Savior and God whose love was so humble that He became one with us in our humanity so we could be one with Him in His divinity. His is the sacrificial love that seeks, invites, encourages, and offers us the fullest life possible in this world and eternal life with Him and all who believe. St. Pope John Paul II said: “A person becomes a believer through choice, it is impossible to make someone believe.” Jesus chose to come and be our Savior. How blessed and hopeful we become when we choose to accept and embrace Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
I offer these verses from Psalm 25 for your prayerful reflection:
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
I trust you, let me not be disappointed;
do not let my enemies triumph.
Those who hope in you shall not be disappointed,
but only those who wantonly break faith.
Lord, make me know your ways.
Lord, teach me your paths.
Make me walk in your truth, and teach me:
for you are God my savior.
In you I hope all day long
because of your goodness, O Lord.
Remember your mercy, Lord,
and the love you have shown from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth.
In your love remember me.
The Lord is good and upright.
He shows the path to those who stray,
He guides the humble in the right path,
He teaches his way to the poor.
His ways are faithfulness and love
for those who keep his covenant and law.
Lord, for the sake of your name
forgive my guilt, for it is great.
Through your Son, Lord, you spared sinners to show
us your mercy and love. Do not remember our sins,
but show us your ways; relieve our distress, and
satisfy the longing of your people, so that all our
hopes for eternal peace may reach