Baptism of Our Lord – C • January 9, 2022 at St. Luke’s

Why was Jesus baptized? As Catholics, we believe that one of the graces of baptism is the forgiveness of sins. But we also believe that Jesus, being the divine Son of God, was without sin. This is not a new question. Really no question that we can think of is a new question. If we think of it, chances are someone else has already thought of it too. There was a saint in who lived in Italy in the 400’s – St. Maximus of Turin – who wrote about this very question. Here is a quote from him about this: “Someone might ask, ‘Why would a holy man desire baptism?’ Listen to the answer: Christ is baptized, not to be made holy by the water, but to make the water holy…to purify the waters which he touched. For when the Savior is washed, all water for baptism is made clean, purified at its source for the dispensing of baptismal grace to the people of future ages. Christ is the first to be baptized, then, so that Christians will follow after him with confidence.” Another way to look at it is this: by being baptized, Jesus gives us an example to follow. And in doing so, he also gives the waters of baptism the power to cleanse us of our sins. It’s as though when we are baptized, our sins are washed off us into the water; and when Jesus descended into the water, he took these sins upon himself. And when he rose up from the water, the voice of the Lord was heard, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
So, just as one of the graces of baptism is the forgiveness of sins, another is that we are given a new identity: we become beloved sons and daughters of God. Imagine for a moment hearing this voice after your own baptism: You are my beloved son or daughter; with you I am well pleased. As baptized Christians, this is our true identity. So often people identify themselves or one other by limitations and failures. People identify themselves or are identified by things like addictions: alcoholic, drug addict. They might identify themselves by perceived mistakes or failures: I’m a loser, a failure, an idiot. These negative identities are harmful and can oppress us and become a heavier and heavier weight to carry around.  Sometimes aspects of one’s life take on an exaggerated importance and become one’s identity or the identity we give to others. Politics: I’m a Democrat; Republican, conservative, liberal, right-wing, left-wing, etc. Or our work becomes our identity. Or one’s race or ethnicity. And more and more people identify themselves by their sexuality. But these things are all just elements, parts of a greater whole that together form a unique human being. Reducing others to one aspect of their identity can lead to various forms of prejudice, discrimination and injustice.
And when just one aspect of ourselves becomes our identity, when it becomes WHO WE ARE, it takes on an exaggerated importance in our lives. We lose a sense of balance and perspective. We start to see the world and all our experiences through the narrow lens of this one element of our whole self. For example, there is a danger in seeing oneself as a victim. Yes, some people certainly have been victimized by others. But the danger of victimhood is that one can begin to interpret everything through that lens. We become suspicious of everyone and everything. We perceive the actions of others, however innocent or well-intentioned they might be, as attempts to victimize us.
Why do we settle for these false identities which are so limited? Let’s break out of this trap of identifying ourselves and others through mere details or aspects of our personalities. Because we have another identity, a true identity: we are sons and daughters of God. God created us to be in relationship to him and with him, not as slaves or servants but as his beloved children. And this true identity makes all the others fade into insignificance in comparison. The benign identities we give ourselves assume their proper place in our lives, as just details about us or parts of a greater whole. And the negative and harmful identities that we have come to believe about ourselves and that oppress us and weigh us down gradually lose their importance, they grow lighter, and eventually fade away.
And this true identity as children of God carries with it a mission: to share with others burdened by the weight of their own false identities the good news that they too were created to be beloved sons and daughters of God. How liberating this news is! When we realize that we were created to be so much greater than what we have come to expect and believe about ourselves, what joy and what peace we experience! And this news ought to change the way we see ourselves, the way we see others, the way we see the world around us. It should change how we live and act. And what naturally follows is the desire to share this joy and peace with others. Perhaps you have been given a false identity or a narrow and limiting or negative label by others and have come to believe it about yourself. Or perhaps circumstances in your life or past sins or sinful patterns of behavior in your life have led you to assume a negative identity. Or perhaps you have settled for an identity that is too limited and narrow. Remember that you were created for much more. Remember that the Lord desires to say to you: Behold my beloved child with whom I am well pleased.