Baptism of the Lord
H O M I L Y
When we are on a journey, the most important moments are when we come to some crossroads. These are the places when the most consequential decisions about our future have to be taken; the times when it becomes more crucial to know where we want to go and where we are actually going.
In the Gospel we just heard, two persons are in presence, and they find themselves at a crossroads -- in more than one sense of the word.
Geographically, first! The place where they meet, along the Jordan, near Jericho, is the lowest point on earth, a few hundred feet under see level. It is the site where both the road from Jerusalem and the road from Galilee die. It leads nowhere!
Spiritually also the location is a crossroads. Nearby is the monastic settlement of Qumr‚n: a sect that broke away from the Temple liturgy of Israel, and lives on the margin of the People of Israel, waiting for a Master of Justice that will re-establish the Kingdom of David and the legitimate liturgy in the Temple -- nurturing a Tradition that leads nowhere.
Personally, the two characters in presence (John and Jesus) have much in common, and in the same line...
John the Baptist is a drop out. He came from a priestly family. From his birth he was destined to serve in the Temple. At some point he rejected his priestly service. Instead he took the route of the desert. A path that led nowhere. There, in the wilderness where there was no way, the Way came to him.
Jesus himself is at a crossroads. He grew up in a traditional Jewish family, in the conservative Galilee of the Northern Kingdom. He received his religious formation at the local Synagogue and used to make the annual pilgrimage to the Jerusalem Temple with his parents. Then, suddenly, around the age of thirty, he left Galilee, he broke away from his family (some of whom thought he had got mad and, at some point, tried to bring him back home). He took the road leading to the desert and was baptised by John.
The path He took also led nowhere. But by doing so He was going to bring human beings to themselves. Listening to the Voice of the Father thundering in the silence of that nowhere ("You are my most beloved son"), he discovered the Way in his heart. He received the revelation that He was the Way. From that time on, everything was radically changed: for Him, for us, for all.
Most people enter history walking backwards, looking at their past. The myth of the lost paradise and the aspiration to return to it has plagued all the religious traditions throughout history. To look forward is more daring and challenging : it is to face history looking forward, towards something that in relationship to time does not exist yet, but that in relationship to eternity already determines our identity.
Jesus and John, both, are marching towards their future looking straight ahead.
According to Arnold Toynbee human beings can be divided in two groups, whom he calls the Zelotees and the Herodians: The "Zelotees" are those who try to understand their present in the light of their past. The "Herodians" are those who try to build their present at the light of the perception their already have of their future.
Jesus and John were definitely "Herodians". And so are we called to be.
The Blood of Christ in which we have been baptised and which we receive in the Eucharist is the still point where are the roads die, and the place where in our personal encounter with Jesus we can be, like Jesus, covered by the Spirit, and where we can hear the voice of the Father telling us once more that we are his daughter or his son.
And whatever has been the journey that led us there, whether with its joys or with its sorrows, whether with grace or with wounds, whether in a direct flight or a laborious wandering, that is the encounter this can free us from all the rest and give meaning both to our present and to our future. For this with give thanks in this Eucharist.