May. 6, 2017

Fourth Sunday of Easter homily

“I AM THE GATE FOR THE SHEEP” (Jn.10:7) …and baptism is your gate-pass

Peter steps up again in the first reading of this Sunday to address the crowd. He challenges his listeners to action. He invites them to commit themselves to the course of the gospel, Jesus, who is Lord. Peter’s speech prompted his audience to react. “What are we to do, my brothers?”, they asked (Acts2:37). Peter’s response was simple, “You must repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). This is an invitation to be faithful to our baptismal commitments. Peter says today, “You must repent and be baptized, and you will receive the Holy Spirit”. Baptism is an essential element in our journey towards salvation. It marks our initiation into the body of Christ, the Church. After his speech, those who accepted the message were baptized, and about three thousand new members were added to their number. The disciples were happy with the converts not only because they got converted but importantly because the new members enhanced their chances towards salvation. Today’s readings therefore provide strong argument in support of baptism.

In the gospel, Christ describes himself this way, “I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved” (Jn.10:7-9). If Christ is the gate to the sheepfold, that presupposes an entrance. A gate is an entry and exit point which lets people in and out. A gate opens for the right people and closes against strangers. To enter in or to pass through the gate warrants a “gate pass”. Baptism is our gate pass into heaven. Christ himself set the example when he went into the river Jordan to be baptized. He requests to have John baptize him, but John is scared and says to him, “It is I who need baptism from you, and yet you come to me” (Matt.3:14). Jesus’ baptism thus commissioned the sacrament and sanctified the waters of baptism for all Christians.

Often, we hear the saying, “Are you born again?” For example, we hear such argument from Jehovah Witness that baptism is not necessary for salvation. The question is, “What exactly are we to do to be saved?” Peter addressed that question in the first reading of today, “Repent and be baptized”. I was watching a video clip by the Franciscan University of Steubenville which featured Steve Ray, the producer of “Footprints of God”. In the video, Steve narrates how he and his wife had been invited by a family for a dinner. Also, invited with him was a Baptist pastor who had just left the Catholic Church to become pastor with his wife. Barely had the meal started that the pastor asked Steve, “Are you born again?” This is a common question that confronts Catholics, and most times, we let ourselves be stupefied by empty arguments. They tell you, you’re not born again, you only received baptism, and then they try to manipulate scriptural prescriptions for being born again.

As we know, baptism derives from the Greek word “baptizo” or “baptisma” which means “to wash, bath, or immerse”. For us Catholics, it is a sacrament which washes us of original sin and initiates us into the community of believers in Christ. Let’s look at some scriptural passages to see how God invites us into the sheepfold with water and the Holy Spirit.

Matt.3:16-17: “And when Jesus had been baptized, he at once came out from the water, and suddenly the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on him”.

Jn. 3:3-5 - In his encounter with Nicodemus, Jesus said to him, “In all truth I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above”. Then Nicodemus asked him, “How can anyone who is already old be born? Jesus answered, “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born through water and the Spirit”.

Acts 9:17-19- After Saul fell down on the road to Damascus, God sent to him Ananias who said to him, “Brother Saul, I have been sent by the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, so that you may recover your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit… So he got up and was baptized”.

Acts 10:44-48 – After Peter had addressed the household of Cornelius and the Gentiles about being converted to the faith, “The Holy Spirit came down on all the listeners”. Then Peter said, “Could anyone refuse the water of baptism to these people, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? He then gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ”.

Let’s be a bit careful when we listen to arguments against baptism. Such arguments usually anchor on St. Paul as authority. They quote Paul as saying, “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1Cor.1:17). The insist that Paul said that justification is by faith alone (Rom.3:22). Yes, but it is always interesting to pick favorable bible verses and use them as authority to defend one’s argument. That’s what the opponents of baptism do. Interestingly, Paul was teaching the Corinthians against focusing on preachers instead of on Christ. He wanted believers to know that the owner of the message is Christ and not the preacher who baptized. If Paul didn’t preach baptism, why was he himself baptized by Ananias in Acts 9:19?

In Romans 6:3-4, Paul wrote: “You cannot have forgotten that all of us, when we were baptized into Christ Jesus, were baptized not his death. So, by our baptism into his death, we were buried with him, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glorious power, we too should begin living a new life”.

In Gal.3:26-27, Paul wrote, “For all of you are children of God, through faith in Christ Jesus, since every one of you that has been baptized has been clothed in Christ”.

Today, Christ tells us, “I am the gate for the sheep… Whoever enters through me will be saved”. By baptism, we have our gate pass; we follow Christ who leads us to salvation. Peter tells us, “repent, and be baptized”. If we value our baptism, then we use our gate pass well. It is the stamp of goodness, love and compassion imprinted on us. Baptism gives us the identity as members of Christ’s flock while good deeds (repentance) secure the seat for us. We must recognize the voice of the Good shepherd. Christ wants us to be saved. He tells us, “I am the Way, Truth and Life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6). Repentance demands actions. Repentance demands love. Repentance demands mercy. Repentance demands uprightness and fairness. These are the ways to respond to the gatekeeper, the ways to keep our baptismal vows alive and afresh. The Good Shepherd has anointed our heads with the oil of baptism, the oil of salvation. May his goodness and kindness follow us all the days of our lives. Amen.