January 11, 2009

Open Season

Feast of the Lord’s Baptism
Mark 1: 7-11 : “On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open
and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.”

The students asked, “Master, what is our worth?” He took a P 500 bill and asked his students, “Who would like this money?” Hands started going up. The master said, “I will give this P500 to one of you but first, let me do this.” He crumpled the P500 peso bill. He then asked, “Who still wants it?” Still the hands were up in the air. He replied, “Well, what if I do this?” And he dropped it on the ground and started to grind it on the floor with his shoe. Now crumpled and dirty, he asked again, “Now, who still wants it?” Still the hands went into the air. And the master finally said, “No matter what I did to the money, you still wanted it because it did not decrease in value. It is still worth P 500.”

Like the P 500 bill, many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled, and ground into the dirt by our sins and wrong decisions we made in our life. We felt worthless. But no matter what has happened, we never lose our worth. We have found favour in the eyes of God in spite of our own sinfulness. To reclaim our worth, all we need is to repent and return to God. This is what John was telling us in our gospel today. Jesus saw the importance of baptism that he allowed himself to be baptized even though he was sinless.

When John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, it was followed by three strange events: “As the Jesus was coming out of the water after baptism, John saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit like a dove descending on Him. And a voice came from the heavens.” (Mark 1:10-11).

The first, “the heavens torn open” refers to Isaiah 63:15-19 where Isaiah asks God to open up the heavens. The opening of heaven symbolizes the end of God’s isolation, silence, and his desire to listen again to his people who have sinned against him. By using this image in Jesus’ baptism, the gospel is telling us that the public life of Jesus is the beginning of the reconciliation of heaven and earth, between God and humanity. It’s now an open season.

Second, the image of the dove brings us back to what happened during the time of Noah. Like in Isaiah where heaven was also closed because of man’s hostility against God, the dove with an olive leaves became the symbol that life is once again restored - a symbol of another chance or new life with God. And when God sends his Spirit in the form of a dove in the baptism of Jesus, God is actually giving us another lease of life through Jesus. It’s now an open season.

Third is the voice from heaven.
What is being emphasized here is the positive element of Jesus being totally accepted and confirmed by the Father, “This is my Son, the Beloved; in him I am deeply pleased.” The same words are spoken to us by the Father when we were baptized. Each one of us is held in divine love and care, clothed with dignity and righteousness, and anointed to become followers of Jesus. And like Jesus, we also received the anointing of the Holy Spirit, forgiveness of our sins, making us children of God and allowing us to share in the kingly, prophetic, and priestly ministry of Jesus. By the virtue of our baptism by water, we are commissioned to follow Christ in his mission: to bring glad tidings to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind and freedom to prisoners.” (Luke 4:18).

These three realities allow us to see the sacramental grace of our own baptism. Like Jesus, we gained favor in God’s eyes in spite of our own weaknesses and sinfulness. Through baptism, heaven is now on our side, we have received a new lease of life and gained the honor of being the sons and daughters of God.

For Jesus, his baptism was also the start of his public ministry - the start of his career as a hunter of lost souls. Stop for a while and pray. Renew your baptismal promises in your heart and rekindle the kingly, prophetic, and priestly role we share with Jesus. The harvest is plenty. Reclaim your discipleship and join the “lost soul” hunting season and help save souls.

As we formally close the Christmas Season today, let us remember who we are and what our worth is. The sacrament of baptism gave us an indelible mark of being the children of God. Nobody or nothing can take away this mark of God’s ownership in us. Our sins may damage our lives but the mercy and love of God will always be there to renew us. All we need to do is to repent and remember who we are. And you will hear the Father saying, “This is my beloved child with whom I am well pleased.”

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.

-Howard Thurman

- Fr.Willy M. Samson,SJ
Zamboanga Catedral
January 11, 2009

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