Fulfill All Righteousness: Baptism of the Lord 2020

THe LawToday’s reflection is for the Epiphany of the Lord, January 12, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This post continues the theme of “The Holy Family.”

There is a phrase that never quite made sense to me, and now as an adult makes even less. The phrase is, “Rules are made to be broken.” Even as a young man, often making the wrong choices and not wanting to follow the rules, I knew absolutely that rules are NOT made to be broken, but to be followed! Who makes a rule just so that it can be broken?

We play a lot of board games in our house, and my family loves playing card games too. We often have to “go to the rules” in order to ensure the game is played well, that it is fair, and the winner is just. To break the rules is to cheat, and cheating is wrong because it undermines the justice of the game and of God, in whose image we are made. Quite the opposite of “Rules are made to be broken,” in fact, rules are made to be followed.

Peter tells the crowd today gathered in the house of Cornelius that God is fair and is pleased by those who follow the rules. He says, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” To act uprightly is to follow just laws established by legitimate authority. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks clearly that we are to follow laws, although there are times where we might have disobey a law to the degree that it undermines God’s law. Both teachings are posted below.

The authority required by the moral order derives from God: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” (RM 13:1-2) The duty of obedience requires all to give due honor to authority and to treat those who are charged to exercise it with respect, and, insofar as it is deserved, with gratitude and good-will. (1899-1900)

The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel. Refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience, finds its justification in the distinction between serving God and serving the political community. “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” “We must obey God rather than men.” (2242)

Catholic Answers posted a thorough explanation of this teaching and it can be found here.

The Gospel today reveals those who follow Jesus’ example know that just laws are made to be followed, and Holy Families not only follow the rules, but teach their children to do the same.

There was quite an awkward moment for John the Baptist, Jesus’ herald, when Jesus approached John to be baptized as evidence of conversion and remission of sins. John even goes so far as to try and excuse himself from baptizing Jesus. John says, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” What a beautiful act of humility John gives to Jesus in those words. Jesus’ response, however, is what is important for us today. Jesus says, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” And John relented and baptized Jesus, because they both knew how important it was to “fulfill all righteousness.”

We heard a few weeks ago that Joseph was going to release Mary quietly when he found out that she was with child. The Gospel explanation for that was because Joseph was a “righteous” man. According to the Jews, to be “right,” to be “right-eous” was to be obedient to God’s law. And in the case of Joseph, he was supposed to release a woman who had been unfaithful to him, as was his intent; he was righteous. And those who were aware of their sin, and sought conversion and to be made clean again by the forgiveness of sins were baptized by John or someone else doing the same. That’s what’s right.

And there’s the rub. Jesus did not commit any sin. Jesus did not need to be baptized for forgiveness nor did he need to be made clean. Jesus was God in the flesh! He was born without sin and committed no sin! Why in the world would he seek baptism?! The answer, is from Jesus himself, “to fulfill all righteousness.” And that was good enough for John.

Jesus very much believed in the way things ought to be. He knew that the law was good and that it was meant to be followed…by everyone. Jesus went to the temple, honored the Sabbath, prayed to His father in Heaven, and observed the law. Incidentally, he spent a great deal of time critiquing those who thought they were above the law, or that abused the law for their own purposes. He calls the religious leadership of his day hypocrites because of their abuse of the law and their twisting of its meaning and of his Father’s intent.

Like John, many would like to make ourselves an exception to the rule or to the law, but Jesus would have none of it—and neither should we. Most people are okay with the law until it’s applied to them. I am horribly guilty of this myself and have much room to grow in this regard. I know the speed limit is good, was created by legitimate authority, and is posted for my safety and the safety of others, and yet oftentimes I am unrighteous. I want to make exceptions. I think that my situation somehow demands that the law not apply to me today, but I am wrong. Whether at school or at work, in our government, or in our dealings with others, the law is good and is meant to be followed. Leaders of Holy Families lead by example. Period.

If there was anyone who ever deserved to be excused from the law it was Jesus, but he is obedient all the same, if for no other reason than to provide an example to all his followers of what righteousness looks like. And the response from Jesus’ Father in heaven are the words that make music in our ears, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Each of us has a lot of room for growth in this area of pleasing God. The gospel demands that we fulfill all righteousness, and so we must. In every part of our day, we should do what is right, follow the law, and follow the rules, that we too might be God’s beloved and by our life, and our children’s lives, He might be well pleased. Amen.

For YouTube video presentations of other reflections, please click here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

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