Note: This homily was delivered at the First Saturday Mass in Xavier School on 12 January 2013.
I’d like to begin by telling you a funny and embarrassing story which–unfortunately–is also a true story. In fact, it happened to me. A few years ago I had just attended a board meeting of one of the universities in Metro Manila, and after the meeting, we decided to go off for dinner. As we were walking out into the patio, a board member insisted on giving me his cell phone number. And that was it: The last thing I remember was keying in the information onto my phone, and before I knew it, I heard a loud splash, and when I looked around me, I couldn’t. I had to look up to see everyone else looking down at me with absolute shock on their faces.
You guessed it–and I kid you not: I had walked into–and fallen right into–a fish pond! There I stood chest deep in the murky water, with one hand miraculously raised to keep my phone from getting wet! (Yes, I do have great instincts for saving gadgets!) But thank God I had fallen on my feet, so I was pretty much unscratched, and I think the only casualty from that mishap was a school of traumatized resident goldfish and of course a bruised ego.
I actually couldn’t stop laughing as they fished me out of the water. What else do you do, right? (I think the others were simply too stunned or too polite to laugh). To make a long true story short, I rushed home for a quick shower to wash off the mud and the stench before rejoining the party for dinner.
So moral lesson No. 1: Never text or use your phone for anything when you’re walking or doing something else. Multitasking is sometimes overrated and risky.
Moral lesson No. 2: It’s so much better–and so much cleaner and safer–just to watch the fishes from a distance. No need to join them!
Now, I tell this story because today we recall the Baptism of our Lord. And if we are to believe historians and biblical scholars, this baptism had nothing to do with a nicely designed little baptismal font like the one we find in Mary the Queen Parish, where we watch the priest neatly pour out clean, chlorine-treated water on a cute little baby’s head as all our hearts collectively melt. Remember, this event happened in the River Jordan, where the water probably looked and smelled more like the fish pond water I got acquainted with that fateful evening.
So here’s my point: I really have a problem with our gospel story today. If Jesus is really the Messiah, the Christ, as John the Baptist himself claimed, why did he need to get baptized at all? Why not stay safely on the banks of the river and just watch all the other people baptized? Believe me, I’ve been there and done that, and it’s no fun.
In fact, we can immediately name two reasons why our Lord should object to a baptism.
First of all, look at who was doing the baptizing. Upon his very own admission, John the Baptist was someone “lesser” than Jesus. He even said that he couldn’t bring himself to tie the laces of Jesus’ sandals. So why let someone unworthy, someone inferior, baptize you?
Secondly, did you notice who else was getting baptized? The River Jordan was crowded with the worst kinds of sinners, such as prostitutes and tax collectors! That’s of course understandable because John’s baptism, after all, was especially designed for sinners. Baptism was a sign that you repented from your sins. So why would someone sinless like Jesus want to go through something like that?
In other words, our Lord had no need for a baptism. He didn’t need to swim in that muddy water along with all those notoriously sinful people and go through something that only sinners needed. He could have just watched all that from a safe distance, without getting himself wet and dirty.
But hopefully, by now we’ve already caught on. Hopefully by now, we’ve begun to take the hint: God’s ways are simply different from ours. Over and over again, He shows us that He prefers not to keep His distance, not to keep us at arms length, but to be right there in the thick of things with us. Over and over again God demonstrates His preference to join us, to be one of us, go through almost every single thing we human beings go through, including and especially the most unpleasant, the most tedious, and the most painful things that we have to endure, if only to be able to tell us that we are not alone, that He is here with us, and that He loves us.