Happy eternity without the expiration date

Tom Bartolomeo
Baptism of the Lord A 2014
Isaiah 42: 1-4,6-7 Psalm 29
Acts 10: 34-38 Matthew 3: 13-17
Reproduced with Permission

Now that the celebration has ended - Happy New Year - what are our plans for a future without an expiration date while these days are waning. That only became possible with the baptism of Jesus as the Son of Man, the first son of man God originally intended. Jesus, we should know, is always first. His Evangelist John said, "he [Jesus] was in the beginning with God" (John 1, 2), as did the Apostle Paul, "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth . . . all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together." (Colossians 1:15-16). There's a mystery, difficult to comprehend the actions of God from eternity. Jesus is one in God and one in humanity, altogether one in eternity and one in time. What God had seemingly lost God had seemingly redeemed from all eternity. Jesus acknowledged this when he prayed to the Father before his arrest and crucifixion, "all are thine and thine are mine . . . and now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world . . . and I am coming to you." Then speaking to his disciples, Jesus said, "I have guarded them, and none of them is lost but the son of perdition [Judas]. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." Again, from all eternity. (John 16: 25-17: 26).

We call ourselves Christian, Christ-bearers, and I don't understand why we are so fixated on this world. It is only a terminal, a waiting area to a destination beyond this world which, God willing, we will immediately forget once we are airborne. Eternity and time, intellectually, seem so incongruous, but both eternity and time are as real as we are. We want all the good things in this life to last "forever", but there is nothing here "forever". It is at the heart of all our personal conflicts. We often want what we can not have and have what we can not keep. Will someone please show us the way out of this confusion, this obsessive compulsive behavior. Before Christ we were so so earthbound. Jesus changed that who publicized, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14: 6). Our 'way' begins with baptism which Jesus inaugurated. He first worked out our salvation in baptism for a world beyond ours which opened from above on the waters of the Jordan River:

Act one, Scene one. Jesus is baptized by a man named John who knew that he, not Jesus, needed to be baptized.
Act one, Scene two. Jesus overrides John's protest, saying, "it is fitting for us --you and me, John - "to fulfill all righteousness."
Act one, Scene three. Jesus "came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened - the heavens were opened - for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to him. And a voice came out of the heavens, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." (Luke 3: 13-17).
Act two. Jesus' ministry.
Act three. Jesus' crucifixion and death.
Act four. Jesus' resurrection and ascension into heaven.

The drama of man's salvation was set in motion by Jesus' baptism, "to fulfill all righteousness" as Jesus explained. John the Baptist was the first of many players in God's drama whose playscript was read in our hearing today: the intervention of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit on the banks of the Jordan River with the first man, the renewed Adam, Jesus. (Matthew 3: 13-17). In the Second act, Scene one, John the Baptist is at the river Jordan with two of his disciples, Andrew and John. John looks up, raises his arm and points to Jesus, "Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world." Words which I will recall in the memorial of Jesus' sacrifice, the Mass. (John 1: 35). From this scene forward in the gospel drama Andrew and John become Jesus' first Apostles. In time others join Jesus and others more will continue to be numbered among the players in the great drama of man's salvation to the end of time.

I am always struck by the gospel authors' simplicity of expression when telling the story of Jesus' saving work. Listen how simply Peter spoke to a gathering of non-Jews in the house of Cornelius, a Roman soldier. "You know the word [Peter said] he sent to the Israelites . . . what had happened all over Judea . . . how God had anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him." (Peter 10: 24-38). [Italics mine]. That was all the Apostle had to say to baptize and confirm Cornelius' Gentile household. It was enough simply to remind them that Jesus "went about doing good and healing all those oppressed." This mission in Jesus Christ's sacred works which we call sacraments continues in his Church today until the end of time. And it all began with Jesus' own baptism "to fulfill [our] righteousness." The three most important sacred works, sacraments - baptism, the Eucharist, and repentance - are meetings with Jesus as real as they were then when Jesus was visibly present, the Son of Man and Son of God among us. Surely this explains why Jesus' later said, "I will not leave you as orphans . . ." and "I will be with you until the end of time." (Matthew 28: 20). His "sacred works" continue in the world. We do not have to see him in the flesh to believe, do we? Our faith also began with baptism, the planting of a seed Jesus spoke of in the well known first of his parables, the parable of the sower and the seed. But the question rises, How fertile is the soil which receives the seed of faith? Is it planted in rich soil or does it lie on hardened trampled soil where the seed is stillborn, or perhaps planted in shallow soil where the seed grows and wilts away or planted in soil crowded with the weeds of a distracted world where the seed grows but bears no fruit. All of Jesus' other "sacred works" he personally performed and shaped into the ministry of his church and then called on the Holy Spirit to be our other Advocate with the Father on Pentecost after Jesus had ascended to his Father's house. Jesus "good works and healing" were then borne by his Church.

All of Jesus' "good works and healing of the oppressed" encompassed and defined his life until he decided that we were ready to continue his work. The Church did not invent these "good works and healing all those oppressed". Jesus first performed them himself, and his Apostles and disciples continued them in his name. And we have his promise in the work, "Whatever you ask of the Father in my name", he said, "you will receive." (John 14: 13). I too, ask the Father in Jesus's name for his intervention in all the sacraments. I am here at Mass not as myself but in the person of Jesus Christ passed down by his first Apostles. We may think that Jesus' good works and miraculous cures of the sick were simply medical in nature, but we would be mistaken especially when Jesus said, "Your faith has saved you." His good works encompassed more than individual bodily illnesses but souls as well as in the case of the hemorrhaging woman and the penitent woman caught in adultery standing before him when all her accusers had left and Jesus asked, "Where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?" She said, 'No one, Lord'. And Jesus said [absolving her], "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more." (John 8: 10-11). At his first appearance after his Resurrection Jesus empowered his Apostles to do the same, telling them, "whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven . . .". (John 20: 23).

Every person, whatever his station in life, whom Jesus met and who needed his help, Jesus obliged. At times Jesus intervened without being asked as in the case of the cripple who for twenty-eight years could not get to the miraculous waters of a pool in time when they were stirred by an angel and be cured. Jesus, again, intervened without the cripple asking him and cured him. (John 5: 7). In another case when Jesus was passing a funeral procession for the only son of a widow of Naim Jesus anointed the man without being asked and the son revived. (John 7: 11-15). We cannot believe Jesus brought life back to his body only and not to his soul. When invited to a wedding in Cana and the wine ran out Jesus quietly intervened for the sake of the bride and bridegroom. We don't think he was there by accident or would not bless the couple's marriage. All the other times Jesus cured the blind, the crippled and the leprous - when they were grateful Jesus said or intimated as much, "Your faith has saved you." Every meeting with Jesus in the world today can be sacramental and especially when we are one with Jesus in communion with his Church. Finally, at his Ascension Jesus empowered his church to continue what he had begun in his baptism, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28: 19-20). The drama began with Jesus' singular baptism and continues in the baptism of many others in the presence and in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Unfortunately, many have reduced these sacred works which Jesus began to mere symbolic gestures or rites. Would we ever believe Jesus became man to simply establish symbolic courtesies or protocols? What a disadvantage that would be absent Jesus' visible presence in our world. That was unfortunately what many of the ruling class of Jews had become, pretenders of Mosaic law and the prophesies of Jesus. Jesus was 0pposed by the ruling class at every turn not just for his teaching but for his "good works". They could ignore his teaching but in their pride they could not ignore his good works. We, too, have many pretenders to Jesus and his Church which are one and the same, who are as opposed to Jesus' teaching and his Apostles today as others were in Jesus' time. "For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, [Jesus said] the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me." (John 5: 36). We see the same works, in our imperfect hands, but His "good works", nonetheless, remain - our only means of grace, truth and salvation.