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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - Standing Shoulder to Shoulder with Sinners

Robert Barron - Standing Shoulder to Shoulder with Sinners

Robert Barron - Standing Shoulder to Shoulder with Sinners

Peace be with you. Friends, we come today to this great Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Jesus baptized by John. Here's the first thing to realize. The Gospel writers compel us as it were, to pass through John to get to Jesus. What I mean is, all four Gospels give us a version of Jesus' baptism by John. Somehow, we have to deal with him to understand fully what Jesus is about. And here's the second thing to realize about the baptism of Jesus by John. It was embarrassing to the early Church. Why do I say that? Well, the early Church is interested in presenting Jesus as the Son of God, the incarnate Word, the immaculate Messiah of Israel, but people were coming to John for a baptism of repentance. They were coming as sinners to John.

So the fact that Jesus is coming to John to be baptized would have been a source of embarrassment or puzzlement for the early Church. Why would the incarnate Son of God be seeking out such a baptism? But here's the thing now. It is the very embarrassment of the baptism that in many ways is the point. You know the old spiritual saying that where you stumble, that's where you dig for treasure. Well, it applies here. It's like it's a stumbling block, and all four Gospels compel us to confront it. Jesus baptized by John, a baptism of repentance. What gives? Well, let's dig a little bit for the treasure. Think of Jesus now standing in the muddy waters of the Jordan, shoulder to shoulder with sinners. Anybody walking by would have pointed at Jesus and said, "Well, look, there's one of those sinners seeking a baptism of repentance".

Jesus' identification with us sinners in many ways is the point. Now, he's not a sinner. That's very important, the sinless Christ. Why? Because if Christ is a sinner, then he needs a Savior as much as we do. So we can't call him consistently the Savior if he's a sinner. But nevertheless, though he's not a sinner, he stands shoulder to shoulder with sinners, identifying with them. If you go back to the ancient of philosophers, people like Cicero, and Plato, and Aristotle, they all said a lot of true things about God: that God is the first cause, God is the prime mover, God is the source of existence, God is a moral norm, etc. Look, of course, in the prophets of the Old Testament, you see these great truths affirmed, but also that God is the one who makes this moral demand upon his people, makes covenants with them. All of that was available through the philosophers, through the prophets of the Old Testament. But you know what nobody saw? You know what no one in any religion, any philosophy of the world, has ever seen or anticipated?

Is that God the first cause of all things, God the moral criterion, would come himself and stand in solidarity, shoulder to shoulder, with us sinners. Yes, himself standing in the muck and mud of our finite and sinful and fallen human condition. In some ways, it's the beauty, it's the deepest and most puzzling truth of Christianity: God the Son identifying with us sinners. I remember years ago when I was a professor at Mundelein Seminary, my great spiritual mentor Cardinal George came, and he spoke to all the students and he complimented them. These were all the kind of John Paul II generation of seminarians at the time. And he complimented them for their devotion to the Church's moral teaching, especially in the area of sexuality and family life. "Good for you," he said, and he really meant it, "that you stand for these teachings and you defend them".

But then he told them something I've never forgotten. He said, "However, if all you do is drop that truth on people and then walk away, you're not a priest. You might be a moral authority, you might be saying correct things, but you're not a priest. Rather," he said, "you announce the truth", yes, indeed, "and then you stand with your people and help them to bear the burden". Well, see where did he get that idea from but from God himself, who does set the moral norm, God calls us, yes, to a life of grace and moral excellence, but in Christ, that same God comes to stand with us, to bear our burden. He doesn't just stay at a distant remove, expecting us to come up to his standards. He comes down and joins us sinners, thereby, listen, setting the tone for the whole of his ministry. Now, let me press this just a little further.

If you look in the Gospel of John, his account of John the Baptist, John sees the Lord coming and he says, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world". Of course, we repeat that at every Mass. "Behold, there, look: the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world". Some years ago, I did a little very informal survey and I asked people, good Catholics who come to Mass, "What does that mean when we say Jesus is the Lamb of God"? And really, almost to a person, everyone said, "Oh, it means that he's gentle and peaceful like a lamb". Well, I mean, okay, it's I guess catching something of the truth. But no first-century Jew would have missed what John the Baptist meant when he said that. "Behold the Lamb of God".

Well, that means the Lamb of sacrifice. Someone would come to the temple in Jerusalem; they'd bring a lamb or they'd bring another type of animal; that animal would be sacrificed, its blood poured out, and then it would be offered to the Father. Why? As a reparation, as sign of the sinner's own repentance. What's happening to that animal by rights should be happening to me. There was a kind of transference from the sinner to the animal who was sacrificed, and thereby reestablishing a right relationship between the sinner and God. Now, everybody, can you see how staggering this is and why this is so important? John, who knew this world very well, why? Well, because he's son of Zechariah, who was a temple priest. His mother, Elizabeth, a descendant from the family of Aaron, the great priestly family. John was a priestly figure; he would have taken this whole theology and ritual in as a child. And what does he say? "Behold the Lamb of God".

In other words: this one who does indeed stand in solidarity with sinners, yeah, absolutely, but more than that. He himself will become the Lamb of sacrifice, par excellence. Think of all these animals sacrificed over many centuries in the temple; think of all of them now summed up in this one great figure, mind you, who's not just one more human hero among many, not one more prophet among many. But this one who is the very Son of God is going to offer himself as the Lamb of sacrifice. That's the meaning of Calvary; that's the meaning of the cross; that's the reality that we re-present at every Mass. Not only is he in solidarity with sinners, but he himself becomes the sacrifice by which we are reconciled to God, God himself performing the sacrifice on our behalf. It's staggering, everybody. And once you see these truths, you get why the Gospels compel us to get to Jesus through John, to look first with great care at this fact of the baptism of Jesus by John.

Now, let me take one more step with you. And I want to draw attention now to the version we have for our feast today, from the Gospel of Mark. It's a very short passage, but packs a punch. So Jesus is baptized by John. And then it says, "On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, 'You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.'" So Jesus is coming up out of the water, in solidarity with us sinners, anticipating that he is to be the Lamb of sacrifice. The heavens are torn open, that's temple talk. When the high priest would go into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, it was seen as a kind of tearing open of the curtain that separates heaven from earth.

So Jesus now, the Lamb of sacrifice, there's a tearing open of the heavens. The Holy Spirit comes down in the form of a dove, and then the voice of the Father is heard. What we have here is an epiphany of the Trinity: the Father who speaks, the Son who comes up out of the water, the Spirit who descends upon the Son. Friends, what happens to us at our own baptism? What happens to us in all the sacraments? What happens to us at Mass when the Lamb of God is re-presented in his offering to the Father? What happens is we are drawn into the life of the Trinity. Look, "God so loved the world", it means the Father so loved the world, "he sent his only Son". Where? All the way down, all the way into godforsakenness, into the muck and mud of our human condition, into our sin, standing in solidarity with us, offering himself as a Lamb of sacrifice!

hy? So that we then might be reconciled to the Father in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is nothing but the love that connects the Father and the Son. You see what's marvelous here on this feast day: the longer we stare at the fact of Jesus' baptism, the more the most elemental truths of our Christian faith emerge. The whole purpose of the Incarnation, the whole meaning of the cross, the whole sense of the sacramental and liturgical life of the Church. We lowly, unworthy sinners, standing in the muddy waters of the Jordan, we seeking a baptism of repentance, through God's grace have been lifted up to a participation in the Trinitarian life. That's what we're meant to see as we look at Jesus through the lens of his baptism by John. And God bless you.
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