Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Homily – Baptism of Jesus – 12 January 2014 – Sacrament of Identity and Opportunity


The Baptism of Jesus – 12 January 2014 – A Sacrament of Identity and Opportunity

Isaiah 42:1-4,6-7; Psalm 29:1-4,3, 9-10; Acts 10:34-38; Matthew 3:13-17

I just returned from a meeting of colleagues working in the field of liturgy. Each year we begin the conference with a ritual to remember the lives of those who died during the past year. It is not unusual to learn something new about the identity of those persons. And, I always find myself thinking, “I did not know that about her” and “I wish I knew her better before she died.” How often have we thought the same way about a deceased friend or member of our families … after their deaths?

Today we celebrate the baptism of Jesus of Nazareth which is considered by some scholars a turning point in his own identity. It is thought that the event was necessary to proclaim, in public, the mission of Jesus, his purpose in life. Otherwise, he may have been lesser known or considered just another prophet or superhero. Even his own neighbors questioned his identity as anything but a hometown youth.

This feast is an opportunity to evaluate our own identity as human beings and as members of this particular Christian church. What are we known for? How will people remember us? Are we recognized always in relationship to someone else — as a spouse or partner, an employer? Are we stereotyped in some way because of race, sex, education, wealth, a title we hold? Or, are we known because of just the way we are with our unique characteristics, gifts and shortcomings. 

Scholar John Pilch suggests that the gospel addresses what may have happened to Jesus as he was maturing and searching for his own identity. He was curious about John the Baptist’s radical call to transformation and sought him out. [1] Maybe Jesus was tired of being a carpenter’s son. It may have been a turning point in the life of Jesus, similar, perhaps, to our own life-changing experiences. 

Isn’t it true that we often go along doing whatever it is that we do when all of a sudden, it seems, something happens to us that prompts a change in our attitudes or perhaps even our entire life. It could be the birth of a baby or the death of partner. It could be surviving cancer or a terrible crash. Perhaps it is the loss of a job or being hired again or retiring. Getting divorced or finding a new mate can change us.These occasions prompt us to refresh our old identities or to find completely new ones.

The gospel also suggests that the ministry of Jesus was pleasing to God. Now, how anyone would know this is hard to understand. Still for Christians it complements the prophecy we heard in the first reading. We are not sure who the servant was in this passage. Was it Isaiah or the nation Israel? Was it someone who was yet to come? All of the references to liberation, however, make this an obvious Christian preface to today’s gospel that identifies Jesus as the One [2] who was to restore creation, to bless us with peace (Ps 29). 

Baptism, like other sacraments, can create a new identity for us as well. Baptism in living water immerses us in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. It is a door to the sacred, an opportunity to take on a new identity by taking off an older one. Baptism initiates us into this new life; the eucharist sustains us in it. 

We believe the call to a new identity in baptism comes from God. Others may have alerted us to that call. Jesus responded and took some risks in doing so. We try to answer that divine call in whatever ways we can, ways that are simple, holy and just. We work to create possibilities so that all people can live with dignity, mobility and opportunity. We oppose any thing that deprives others of the chance to get ahead in life. In the second reading from the Acts of the Apostles, attributed to Luke, we are reminded “God shows no partiality.”

We gather often to remember and embrace the life of Jesus of Nazareth. In doing so we also face the question, “how will you and I be remembered?”


1 John J. Pilch The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle A (The Liturgical Press. 1995. pp. 10-12)

2 Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today (Liturgical Press. 2006, pp. 34-36.



Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

3 thoughts on “Homily – Baptism of Jesus – 12 January 2014 – Sacrament of Identity and Opportunity

  1. This is a deeply thoughtful homily which brings the humanity of Jesus to the fore. We are all called to be who we truly are. I recently read a prayer from Catherine of Genoa, a 15th Century mystic. It was entitled
    ‘The Real Me is God.’ We are all connected, created by and immersed in God.
    I liked your thoughts on learning more about others after they are gone. It prompts me to think we should spend more time listening and less time talking, so we can grow closer to others. Funny, coming from me…


  2. What a wonderfully rich and thought-provoking homily. Your reference to friends and colleagues who have gone to their reward, and your question as to how we will be remembered, struck home. Yesterday I was blessed to attend the memorial service for a colleague, Elliot Pagliaccio. While we had a good professional relationship, I had not known him well personally. The tributes and remembrances from those who had been close to him for many years, some since childhood, were deeply inspiring and have made me spend time thinking about my own life – a challenge renewed and deepened by today’s homily. Thank you.


  3. You are the go-to-guy when I need an insightful homily (which is nearly always). This particular one I sent to my sisters, and friends far and wide.
    I am left with my own question. That is, what does it matter if we are remembered or not? Three or four generations later, who will remember us?
    Perhaps it takes a saint, official or otherwise to be remembered a long time. Most of us aren’t there and won’t ever be. I think of Jay Murnane who so affected his world of influence that he will be remembered forever in Troy as a pastoral icon when it comes to serving the poor with love and dignity. He is the one I thought of and to whom I prayed. You never know where your homilies are going to take people, Richard. Thanks for inspiring that wonderful memory of Jay.


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