Bread In The Wilderness

Father Carl Diederichs

All Saints Catholic Church

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

 

The Baptism of the Lord

 

This coming Sunday will be the last Sunday of the Christmas season, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.  We are told Jesus comes to John the Baptizer and asks for baptism, John refuses at first, but then he relents after Jesus says: “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  John proceeds with the baptism and a voice is then heard: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” 

 

Jesus is baptized “to fulfill all righteousness.”  What is “righteousness”? Among other things, in the New Testament it is associated with fair and equitable dealings.  Righteousness leads to integrity, virtue, piety, and godliness.  Righteousness reflects generosity, and the values of goodness and justice.  That is what Jesus came to fulfill.

 

For us to fully understand the “righteous” way, we must consider that it is not just an inner spirituality, but it also demands a certain way of life in our relationship with others.  For Jesus, his holiness is integrally woven with His compassion for the disenfranchised.  Jesus embodies this “righteousness” in all his actions and words.  He spent His life for others, especially the poor, the powerless and, yes, sinners.

 

We, most of us, have also been baptized.  We have been washed clean, anointed, clothed, and given a lighted candle to symbolize the life of Jesus now lived in us.  This is a good time, as we celebrate Jesus’ baptism, to reflect on our own.  How do we practice the ministry of righteousness that is deeply entwined with inner piety and our external service to others? 

 

In our inner spirituality, how does “righteousness” enter our personal lives as we consider questions of budget, cost and delivery of every purchase we make, of every investment we make?  Have we nicely compartmentalized our own comforts, our wants, from the agonizing cries of the poor?  And this means going way beyond donating a used piece of clothing or throwing a few dollars at a poor person.

 

Our “righteousness” ought to transform any uncomfortable confrontations with poor and homeless people to divine encounters with people who, like us are created in the image and likeness of God.

 

I will end this homily with a direct quote from Roger Nam, who provided me with these insights.  He says: “I do not believe that righteousness has much to do with guilt and shame over our own affluence.  Rather, the call to fulfill our righteousness includes us recognizing our own material privilege, then accordingly striving to follow Jesus’ path in regard to the least among us.”

 

As we remember Jesus’ words to John, we can renew our own baptismal promise and realize that our baptism has given us the grace to “fulfill all righteousness.”

 

“I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen”

Jesus said: “Come, follow me.”

 

 

 

Faithfully,

 

 

Father Carl Diederichs