2nd Sunday in OT / A / 2020
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
The Gospel today presents Jesus, the "Lamb of God," at his baptism by John in the Jordan River. Perhaps the question asked then is the same question we ask now: "Why was Jesus baptized?" The response given to us by the Church is that Jesus—from the very beginning of his public ministry—identified with sinners, to the point that he even lined up with them to be baptized in the Jordan River. And as he did on the cross, so also at the river: Jesus bore our sins and brought salvation to the world.
But my homily today is not about the baptism of Jesus. It is about our baptism, and what that means—what it means to be a called a Christian and a Catholic. And I can think of few other passages in the NT that lay it out so well as our second reading today, the beginning of St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. The salutation.
The reading starts with the name Paul, a Roman name. Paul was a Roman citizen, and proud of it. The Roman empire was his territory as a missionary, and he traveled from one end of it to the other. But Paul was also a Jew, and this heritage defined him at a very fundamental level.
Until he met Christ, on the road to Damascus. Paul underwent a conversion, and his life radically changed. As a Jew, his name was "Saul"—named after the first king of Israel; as a Christian, he became "Paul," a Roman name that indicated his conversion, a new life, completely focused on Christ.
So how did St. Paul characterize himself? He says, "called to be an apostle."
Notice the passive voice. Paul "is called." It is not his plan; it is God’s plan—a much bigger picture that goes beyond him, into which he fits.
And what is God’s plan? An apostle. To be sent. Like a letter. Or a package. Or a message. Called into Christ. And sent out to the people. Into Christ. Out to people.
And where is he sent? To the "church"—in this case, Corinth, in Greece. Corinth was said to be the "Las Vegas" of the ancient world, a port city with all the vices that come with it. The church was a small community in a big city—to witness to the truth.
Paul uses the word "church,"—ekklesia—a word beautifully descriptive of what it is. It is a combination of two Greek words: ek (out of) and kaleo (meaning to call). To be "called out." To be called out of one world and into another.
Paul says his little community is "called out" of darkness—out of loose living and excessiveness and debauchery and sexual immorality, and injustice; and called into the light, the Body of Christ: ". . . you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy."
The biblical notion of "sanctified" and "made holy" means that we are "set apart"—not for our own benefit, but for the benefit of the world. We are not taken out of the world; we are inserted more deeply into the world—as God’s holy ones, to witness to holiness.
But the task is too great for any one of us, so we are united "with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." United—in Christ and with all Christians—to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to all.
And that’s what it means to be baptized, with St. Paul as our model: 1) called by God for mission, 2) sent to preach the Good News, 3) out of darkness into light, 4) growing in holiness for the sake of our brothers and sisters.
No small task. But nothing is impossible with God.