Read the Homily

Baptism of the Lord 2019


Do you remember the four-minute mile? No one could break the four-minute mile. Experts came to the conclusion that the human being could only run so fast and they presented all sorts of reasons: wind resistance, lung capacity, the human muscles, and bone structure were simply insufficient to support such speeds. Then one person defied the odds and proved them all wrong. Roger Banister ran the mile under four minutes. What is more amazing is that in the next year 37 people ran the mile in under four minutes. The year after that, over 300 people broke the four-minute mile. There was a race where everyone beat the four-minute mile. Imagine the loser of that race who came in last. Had he clocked his time a few years before, he would have been known in history as the fastest human on the planet. What happened? The human spirit. The spirit transforms difficulties, road-blocks, obstacles, and impossibilities into opportunities to achieve greatness.

After the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years, God instructed the Israelites to enter the Promised Land by crossing the Jordan River during the rainy season. To fully appreciate how difficult this task is, I need to give you a few details about the Jordan river.  The river begins a few hundred feet above sea level at Mount Herman and runs through the Jordan rift ending at the Dead Sea at 1,200 feet below sea level. That is a rather steep pitch for a river, and that is why it is one of the most dangerous and most feared rivers on the planet. God instructed the Israelites to proceed across the river starting with the priests who were to carry the ark of the Covenant. As a priest, I can imagine the conversation that must have taken place. “Didn’t I lead the procession last time is it someone else’s turn to go first this time around?”

The priests led the procession by approaching the bank and stepping into the river. Before they were swept away to their death, God stopped the flow of water. They were able to cross over on dry ground. If God asked me to cross with those dangerous conditions, I would have said, “Sure, you stop the water from flowing first, then I will jump into the river. I will even dance to the other side, but you remove the obstacles, you take away the difficulties.  Make it easy for me, and I will be happy to do it.” Yet, God gave the Israelites a spirit by which they were able to transform a roadblock and an impossible situation into an opportunity to achieve greatness.

I had the privilege of knowing a Vietnamese gentleman who lived during the time. He told me that he was a young boy living in Saigon when the Americans left the country, and the Communists took over. He described to me that day when his father put the family in a boat in the middle of the night to cross the channel with no lights. It was dangerous because of the heavy currents, rocks that were hidden under the surface of the water, and Communist patrol boats scoping the area for people trying to escape. Somehow they managed to leave the country. They were able to find a distant relative in the US who vouched for them and were able to get a visa to come to the States. He told me when he finally arrived in the US, he had absolutely nothing. He didn’t know one word of English, didn’t have any friends, and I didn’t even have a toy to make him smile. Fifteen years later he passed the bar exam and became a lawyer.”  I said, “That is amazing.”  He then told me this, “Don’t underestimate the human spirit. It is an incredible gift if you use it.” In the Gospel, it says that John Baptized by water, but Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit. That is what it means to be baptized by the Spirit. It allows us to transform, obstacles, roadblocks, and impossibilities into opportunities that produce great works. Commemorating the Baptism of Jesus reminds us of the gift of the spirit that we received at baptism. We just have to remember to use it.

Back to All Homilies