Priest, Prophet, and King (pt 1 of 3) - Baptism of Jesus
If you find what happened at the Jordan River that day a bit mysterious, you’re in good company: John the Baptist was certainly confused at first. Why should I baptize you? Isn’t that backwards? If Baptism is for the forgiveness of sins, why does Jesus need it? If it’s our entry into the Body of Christ, why would Christ himself need it?
The short answer is that He didn’t, of course. Like everything Christ did, it was out of love for humanity. He went down into the waters not to be sanctified, but to sanctify. Not to be saved, but to save. Baptism is the door through which we enter His Church; this is Jesus creating that door.
This is one of his first public acts, one of the first things that the world sees the Messiah do. So you might think it’s pretty important to Him. And at the end, his last words to his Apostles will be a command to make disciples and Baptize them. This is not a mere symbol, or a nice ritual. When John the Baptist says “the One coming after me will baptize with the Holy Spirit,” you’d better believe that that does something. It’s a sign, but it’s not only a sign. It’s heavy with symbolism, but it’s more than a symbol. Baptism works. Baptism changes.
When you were baptized, you were anointed with the blessed oil called Chrism. That oil was blessed in the Cathedral in Belleville by our Bishop, and brought here to extend the Sacraments of Christ to our parish. Anointing was a normal, culturally relevant thing in Biblical times. For us, it’s not part of our culture other than in church. But we can still understand by asking, who is anointed in the Bible? Priests are anointed, Prophets are anointed, and Kings are anointed.
If you’ve been to a Baptism lately that should sound familiar. Every Catholic, at his or her Baptism, is anointed as these words are said: “As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of His Body, sharing everlasting life.”
That seemed like a good sermon topic: priest, prophet, and King, but I failed. There’s too much. So it looks like we’ve got a series on our hands. Today let’s just consider what it means to share in Christ’s priesthood. And remember that right now we’re not just talking about ordained priests. We’re talking about the kind of priesthood that all baptized Christians share. You did know you were a priest by your baptism, right? If not, this is a big day for you! You should probably get some Dairy Queen.
This is one of those times when you can’t really begin to understand Jesus if you don’t know your Old Testament. I know the Old Testament can be intimidating and confusing. But look at it this way: would God have gone through all that history, all that trouble, all that preparation for the Messiah, if it was something you could just as well do without? No way. The whole Bible is the story of Christ. He just isn’t Incarnate for all of it, but that doesn’t make it any less His story.
So what is priesthood in the Old Testament? If we understand that, we can appreciate how Christ fulfills it, and we can understand what it means for us to share it. There are different ways to explain it, but I’ll propose three angles: The priest cares for the Temple, the priest offers sacrifice, and the priest is a mediator between God and man.
So look how perfectly Christ fulfills the Old Testament priesthood! The first priestly role is to care for the Temple. But Jesus doesn’t just have care of the Temple, He is the new Temple. He was speaking about his own body when he said “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Temple is where the presence of God dwells among us. Jesus is perfectly, completely, God himself dwelling among us.
The second priestly role is to offer sacrifice. Jesus does that, too, but He doesn’t just offer another lamb like the thousands that were sacrificed before. He is the Lamb of God, and the sins of the world are taken away by His one sacrifice, once for all.
The third role of the priest is mediation between God and humanity. Hopefully you’ve caught the amazing pattern here. Jesus is God, and He is man, together without separation or conflict, together for all eternity. Mediation can not be more perfect than that!
So everything about the Old Testament priesthood is perfectly fulfilled in Christ, and in a way that no one could have even predicted. It’s no wonder that the Book of Hebrews, in the New Testament, goes on and on about Christ’s perfect priesthood, and calls him the True High Priest. Heb 5:5 say “In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” And when did God the Father say that to the Son? At his Baptism.
So Hebrews links Christ’s priesthood to his baptism. And at your Baptism, you, too, were anointed to share in that priesthood. The voice from Heaven may not have been heard, but no less did God the Father say to you: “you are my beloved son, my beloved daughter.”
So now it’s our job to continue Christ’s priesthood in the world. When you think about priests in the Church, it’s only natural that you probably think first about the ordained. And that is a Biblical thing. Christ gave his Apostles certain tasks and certain roles that were unique to them. Their successors are among us as the Bishops of the Church, and the Bishops have ordained priests to extend their Apostolic ministry. That’s the Sacramental Priesthood, the ordained Priesthood, and it’s amazing, but that’s another sermon.
But that Baptismal priesthood we’ve been talking about, that’s for everyone. That’s yours. And you live it by caring for the Temple, and by offering sacrifice, and by mediating between God and humanity.
You care for the Temple in lots of ways. The simplest and most obvious is by providing for the material needs of the Church. The physical presence, our sacramental homes, the things we need to make worship as noble and worthy as we can manage. But your Temple is not just here. The baptized, and laypeople in particular, are called to sanctify the world. It’s your job to take what happens here and change the world. Change the world! I’m going to tell you one of the great tragedies in the Church in our time: it’s how many laypeople are distracted from their mission to transform the world with the power of the Gospel. They’re so busy trying to change the Church, trying to remake the Church in whatever image they see fit, or waiting for the Church to be more inspiring or more perfect or something, that they aren’t living their Baptismal call. They’ve forgotten to be the Church, in a way that goes beyond filling a pew. Being the church means continuing the life and work of Christ in the world. It means changing the world with the power of the Gospel. Are you up for that? Your Baptism says you are. It doesn’t have to be grandiose; in fact, grandiosity isn’t very effective at changing the world. You know what is effective? Sacrificial love. Mercy. Forgiveness. Purity. Holiness. Catholics who know their faith, and love their faith, and live their faith.
If you are participating in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, you also do that by offering sacrifice. There is no priesthood apart from sacrifice. If it isn’t sacrificial, it isn’t priesthood. Sacrifice is simply something offered to God. I should say, offered back to God, since we have nothing to offer that isn’t His gift to begin with. But that’s okay. It’s like a child asking he parents for money to buy them a present: we’re always in that position when it comes to God. Which is all the more reason to offer.
What is your sacrifice? What is it that you offer? Money? Time? Prayer? I hope all of those. What about suffering? Christ redeems the world by accepting suffering out of love. We’re the Body of Christ, so that’s absolutely part of the deal. It might not sound like it, but this can be really good news. Because it means that our suffering does mean something, it isn’t just pointless, and it isn’t fruitless.
Catholics used to tell each other almost flippantly, “offer it up!” You think it’s too cold? You have a toothache? You have to work extra? Offer it up! But that’s not a joke, and it shouldn’t be flippant. Listen to Colossians 1:24 - “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” That’s amazing! Paul isn’t saying that Christ didn’t suffer enough. He’s saying that our suffering participates with His in the redemption of the world. That’s priestly! That’s living your Baptismal priesthood. So you may pray, as He did, “let this cup pass me by,” but always add on “but not my will but Thine be done,” and know that when God asks you to carry a Cross, it is never in vain. And ultimately, the sacrifice God desires is not just our money or our stuff or our time, but ourselves. Over and over again during the Eucharistic prayer, you’ll hear the word ‘sacrifice.’ That means Christ’s sacrifice of himself, giving himself completely to the Father, and our task at each Mass is to join by offering ourselves completely with Him. Not only what we have, not only what we can do, but offering ourselves.
OK… in our baptismal priesthood we care for the Temple, and we offer sacrifice… the third role is to be a mediator. You know what that means… sort of like a go-between. A priest mediates between God and humanity. Mediators have to be able to face both directions. You have to know humanity, and you have to know God. And by bridging between them, you make a connection.
Every baptized Christian is called to bring God to others, and to bring others to God. The most basic way you do this is by praying, interceding for others with God. You know that phrase we sometimes use, we’ll say we’re “lifting someone up to God” in prayer. That’s a very descriptive way of talking about prayer! There are so many people on my heart right now, for so many reasons, and you too, right? Well, we bring them all along with us when we come before God. We bring them right up to this altar, we hold them in prayer, we lift them up. That’s a priestly thing.
In the other direction, we are called to bring God to others. That means knowing our faith. It means being willing to talk about it. It means being a good representative, this might sound strange, but it means being an ambassador for God. So many people have twisted ideas about God, or are angry with Him, or just never give Him much thought at all. If you’re baptized, you’re on for witnessing. We bring God to others not just by what we say, but what we do. When we help someone who’s behind on bills, we’re extending the mercy God has already shown us. When you offer a kind word, or encouragement, or just a listening ear, you’re being Christ for someone. Anytime you bring some soul a little closer to God, that’s being a mediator, that’s being priestly, that’s living your Baptism. And there are so many souls that are distanced from God!
Well, I hope you’re convinced. If you’re baptized, you’re a priest. There is a very real, and very crucial sharing in the priesthood of Christ that belongs to every baptized Christian. You’re all going to go out that door in about twenty minutes. Your job is to change the world. To build up the Temple. To offer sacrifice, especially your own life, in union with the Cross of Christ. And to bring people together with God. Because you are Christians, and you are priests, and that’s what priests do.