Sunday, January 8, 2017


Homily for January 9th, 2017. Baptism of the Lord: Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7a.

          “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased.” From the day those words were written, people have been asking: “Who is the prophet talking about?” The words introduce one of the so-called “Suffering Servant” passages in the second part of the Old Testament book of Isaiah. The author, called by scholars “the Second Isaiah,” is addressing God’s people after their return from decades of exile in Babylon. Whoever this Suffering Servant may have been in the mind of the author, the Church has always read the passages which describe him as referring to Jesus Christ. Hence the appearance of one such passage on this day when we celebrate Jesus’ baptism by his cousin, John the Baptist.

          The words of our first reading tell us that this Suffering Servant will not cry out, will not shout, will not make his voice heard above the hubbub of the street. The words which follow are consistent: “A bruised reed he shall not break, a smoldering wick he shall not quench.” The prophet is sketching someone who is gentle, who respects us as we are: sinful, weak, often confused; a man who never dominates us, forces himself upon us, or smothers us.

          Quietly and gently, but with unmatched spiritual power, Jesus appeals to us by the force of his example. If ever there was a true Man for Others, it was and is Jesus. He wants us too to be people for others: people who put God first, others second, and ourselves last. Why does Jesus want that for us? Because he knows that only by living for others can we find the deep and lasting happiness that each one of us wants, deep in our hearts.

          “I’ve started to look for a wife,” a man just past 30 told me in a recent e-mail. “I’ll be praying for you,” I responded. Then I gave him this advice. Look for someone who is more interested in giving than in getting. And to enhance your chance of success be a giving person yourself. To help him understand that advice I cited a remark by Great Britain’s leader during World War II, Winston Churchill. Though not a particularly religious man Churchill spoke a profound truth when he said: “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

Take those words with you into the New Year, try every day to act on them, and you will greatly increase the chances of it being for you a truly happy New Year.