We are People of the Covenant
by Dennis Chriszt, C.PP.S.
Imagine, if you will for a moment,
what it must have been like,
standing in the desert at the foot of Mount Sinai.
It was a hot and desolate place.
This was no Promised Land.
Food was running short,
and water was scarce.
They had come a long way from Egypt,
but still had a long way to go.
And when Moses took the book of the covenant and read it to the people,
they were delighted to have been chosen.
Then he splashed the altar
and the people with bowls full of blood,
the blood of several young bulls.
It was sticky and smelly,
and it stained their clothes.
In the desert,
the blood could hardly we washed away,
and its stains would remain forever.
Every time they wore these robes
they would be reminded of that day.
They would see the stains they could not wash away
on themselves and on their family, friends and neighbors.
As long as they lived
they would remember that they were God’s chosen ones.
Imagine, if you will for a moment,
what it must have been like
down at the Jordan River that day.
Jesus, and hundreds of others,
had come to hear the preaching of John.
Some called him a prophet,
others thought of him as mad,
preaching in the desert,
eating locust and wild honey,
dressed in animal skins.
He was a sight to behold.
Jesus had heard about him.
Almost everyone in Israel and Galilee had heard about him.
They heard the rumors that Herod was not pleased,
and anyone who displeased Herod could not be all bad.
So they went to the desert to hear what he had to say.
And many were moved by his words,
as was Jesus that day,
and asked to be baptized,
to be ritually cleansed of whatever kept them from following God
as faithfully as they could.
But unlike everyone else who was baptized that day,
Jesus saw something, heard something,
none of them saw or heard.
The Spirit descending like a bird from the heavens
and a voice crying out,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell us the same story,
immediately after his baptism,
Jesus is driven by the Spirit into the desert
where he is tempted.
Most of the time
we don’t notice that the baptism and temptation
come right after one another.
we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of the Lord in early January,
and the temptations on the First Sunday of Lent.
But in the gospels,
they come one right after the other.
Matthew and Luke tell us about the temptations in some detail.
Jesus was tempted to change a stone into bread,
a temptation I’ve never faced,
though on occasion, while trying to bake some bread,
a stone emerged from the oven.
Jesus was tempted to throw himself off one of the towers
that surrounded the Temple,
just to see if God would save him.
I don’t know about you,
but everyone I know who’s considered jumping off a tall building
wasn’t doing it to test God’s fidelity.
Jesus was tempted, we are told,
to bow down in worship before the Evil One.
Well, I know I’ve been tempted,
but never in such a direct way
to offer praise to Satan himself.
He was there for forty days and forty nights,
the gospel tells us,
and somehow I think he may have been tempted
to do some other things.
At least I would have been.
I would have been tempted to go back home,
to forget about the voice.
I would have remembered what happened to so many who answered God’s call,
and I would have been tempted to forget the who thing ever happened.
I would have wondered how I could be God’s beloved.
Up until that time,
Jesus had done nothing outstanding.
He may have been a decent carpenter,
designing and building a nice home,
small business, synagogue or government building,
but none of those were reasons for God to have proclaimed,
“You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Some of his customers could have been well pleased,
Why would God have been well pleased?
It seems clear in the gospels that Jesus had not worked any wonders,
had never preached any great messages,
hadn’t gathered any disciples,
hadn’t even read the scriptures out loud in the local synagogue.
There was no reason for God to be well pleased,
at least not yet.
Yes, I would have been tempted to go back home,
to continue to be taken care of by my mother,
to continue to be the carpenter from Nazareth
or the carpenter in Capernaum.
That would have been the first temptation I would have faced after the baptism.
And isn’t that the temptation we all face.
The same voice that spoke at the baptism of Jesus
has spoken to us,
has called us God’s beloved sons and daughters,
has been well pleased with us.
But aren’t we often tempted to forget that,
to think that maybe Jesus could be God’s beloved Son,
and maybe Mary could be God’s beloved daughter,
and the canonized saints the beloved sons and daughters of God,
but we would hardly ever think of ourselves in those terms.
Yet that is who we are.
St. Peter tells us in his first letter,
in what some scripture scholars consider a baptismal instruction,
you are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own,
so that you may announce the praise” of him
who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
Once you were “no people” but now you are God’s people.
We are God’s chosen people,
stained by the blood of Christ.
We are God’s beloved sons and daughters,
with whom God is well pleased.
We may be tempted not to believe that,
but it is true nonetheless.
(The following refrain is sung at the end of this homily)