Jesus got baptized? Well, not really.
The answer lies in some of the scripture we have heard these past weeks.
Remember the second week of Advent when our locust eating friend, John the Baptist was at the river preaching repentance? He was performing the Jewish ritual of mikveh. It was a spiritual cleansing. Once a person decided to participate in the mikveh, or repent, he or she would go to the river and be submerged. This was a public thing, it wasn’t done in secret. One saw members of one’s own community there, but there was no shame or embarrassment. They were all there for the same reason. To get right with God.
Jesus was a Jew and so it was quite natural for him to go to the river for a mikveh. He didn’t do it for forgiveness of sin. Jews have a different concept of sin. The word for sin in the Jewish faith is “chet.” It means “missing the mark,” of getting something but carries an expectation to right the wrong. There is no guilt or shame attached. A very human Jesus saw the need to get right with God and so participated in a mikveh right along with the rest of his community.
Our sacrament of Baptism came out of the mikveh ritual. St. Augustine gave us the theology of original sin in the third century and there are vestiges of it left to this day which is a real sin. One of the first documents to come out of Vatican II was the text for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. It’s the prayers, rituals and Sacraments of Initiation by which people join the Church with the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. The church fathers cut through layers and layers of centuries of teaching and returned us to our roots. Nowhere in the text does it mention original sin. Baptism is about initiation, of belonging, of joining.
Our baptism tells us we belong; we belong on so many levels. We belong to Jesus, we belong to the Catholic faith, we belong to a community of believers, we belong.
I’ll be willing to say most of us were baptized as babies and don’t remember it. Were any of you baptized as adults?
I was part of the team who taught adults about the Catholic faith, who were with them as they were baptized. I always wondered what made an adult who usually had no religious upbringing, whose family may have even been agnostic, what made them decide they wanted to be baptized.
So I asked them that question. Now you have to know every single year there were a lot of young couples who were engaged. The woman was usually the Catholic and the guy was not. You could tell it on his face at the very first meeting! One man told me he liked the architecture of the Cathedral and stopped in to see what it was about. More than one told me they felt as if something was missing. How could that be, I asked, you didn’t know what you were missing. Still, they would say, there was a hole that needed filling.
We as Catholics accept the baptism of those baptized in other faith traditions as long the Trinitarian formula and water is used. You have heard it all of your life, we believe in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
Everyone should sit in on an RCIA class and feel the excitement, see the eagerness of people leaning about the faith. We could teach the faith without all the baggage of the institution. We taught of the love of God, of Jesus, of this whole wonderful worldwide group of people who practiced the Catholic faith and told them that they soon would be part of that. By Holy Week, their excitement was palpable; one could almost reach out and grab a handful. The stars in their eyes were contagious, and all of us, sponsors, team members and Catholic spouses, all began to have stars in our eyes, too.
Here we are in a new year, having made the decision to leave the institution behind and concentrate on living our Catholic faith. Do you have stars in your eyes? Did you used to have stars, have they been somewhat dimmed? What do you say that we make a resolution to get to know our faith with new eyes, like as if we were learning about it for the first time? What if we could talk about that faith to others, to help them see there is light beyond the Catholic institution, What if that is a meaning of the Epiphany star? a star so bright it could rekindle the stars in our eyes and help us remember what we already possess? Jesus. The Catholic Faith. A community of believers. We belong.
We belong to an imperfect family of believers that stretches back some 2000 years. Our family is full of sinners, crusades, inquisitions, horrific scandals and corrupt political infighting.
Our family is full of saints, Eucharist, social justice teachings and practices, parochial school systems to take care of young people, hospitals to take care of the sick of the world, missions and missionaries that reach into all corners of the world.
Through our baptism and inclusion into this magnificent church, we are afforded comfort through the liturgy when we grieve, happiness through the liturgy when we celebrate and a “steady as she goes” comfort through the liturgy when we need boosters of grace along the way. We Belong.
All of us all of us, all of us have been able to participate in all of this because of our baptism. All of these events, the big and the small, have contributed to the people we are today. It is our turn to build up the Body of Christ for our future brothers and sisters as our ancestors have done for us. Do you know why? Because we belong.
Homily shared on Saturday, 8 January 2022, by Rev. Mary Keldermans.