The baptism of the Lord by John the Baptist in the river Jordan is the third epiphany (showing/manifestation/revelation with a message) of Jesus. The first was at the Nativity when Jesus was born. Jesus was manifest as the Word made flesh, fully human and fully God. The second epiphany was the visit of the Wise Men who represented all of humanity. This showed Jesus as the God Whose love is all inclusive, indiscriminate and outreaching to all peoples. Today we have the third epiphany, the Baptism of the Lord as He begins His public ministry. From this moment on, Jesus is proclaiming the Kingdom of God, teaching of the Father’s love, healing the sick and seeking, through Divine Mercy, to include all who are sinners and outcast feeling they are beyond the love of God. This feast reminds us of our baptism. That wonderful day when we were brought by our loved ones to the font.
There is much that can be said about the Baptism of the Lord and I want to focus on the theme of solidarity. This solidarity holds the three epiphanies together for me. At His Birth Jesus came, taking on our flesh in solidarity with all created in the Father’s image. The Wise Men felt welcome and included by the Holy Family and sensed the unity the Child brought about. We associate baptism with the forgiveness of sin. Yet Jesus, Who was without sin, was baptised. One main reason was His self-identification with the multitude that had come to listen to John. By extension, Jesus stood shoulder to shoulder with all people in all places in all times. Of course Jesus was also pointing the sacrament of baptism which would draw it’s life transforming effect from the Paschal Mystery Lord’s death and resurrection. At the Lord’s Baptism, we note some important lessons:
First, the Lord’s humility. Jesus waits patiently in the queue with everyone else even though He is the Messiah, the Son of God. John the Baptist stresses his unworthiness to baptise Jesus but the Lord insists. Where there is humility there is no obstacle to God’s love and grace.
Second, we have the voice of the Father from Heaven that Jesus is His Son upon Whom rests all Divine favour. The Father authenticates the identity of Jesus. There can be no doubt, Jesus is the long awaited Messiah. Jesus acts with supreme Divine Power and His teaching is the fullness of Truth. We need no other than the Lord. No other agency but Jesus. We can put all our eggs in the Lord’s basket and we will never need a plan B. We will never be let down by Jesus Who keeps His promises and will always be there for us.
Third, we have the descent of the Holy Spirit like a dove. The dove symbolises peace, gentleness, compassion and God’s gifts given from on high. I’d like us to dwell on that aspect. God’s Spirit is always life. In the beginning The Spirit was the power of creation. The Spirit hovered over Mary and she conceived Jesus. The Spirit was given to the Apostles at Pentecost and the Church was given life. The same Spirit descends upon Jesus and the infinite power of God is embodied in the Lord for the good of all. The aim of the gift of the Spirit is to bring every person back to divine life and heal that person entirely, in body and in spirit. All people must be restored to their place in the plan of God for which each of us was created. Christ is seen to come as the One Who will give humanity God’s Life as grace in the inexhaustible spirit of love and be saved.
Jesus wasn’t baptised for any private reasons; it was because He had a public calling and ministry. Jesus stands in the queue at the river Jordan and shares the sign of baptism to say He has joined the movement of all people to God. In our baptism we enjoy:
- REBIRTH: We are born again in the power of the Spirit. We have two lives: earthly and spiritual. Our earthly life is lived constantly with the spiritual life in mind.
- INITIATION: The inclusive nature of God is seen in the Lord’s baptism. It prefigures sacramental baptism in which we are adopted into the life of the Trinity and become members of the Mystical Body of Christ the Church.
- CONSECRATION: As our Lord dedicates Himself to the mission of salvation at His Baptism, we are also dedicated to share the mission of love and compassion in the Lord’s service and Name.
- EMPOWERMENT: As Jesus possesses the power of the Holy Spirit, we can draw on the Holy Spirit in our daily endeavours. The humbler we are, the more compatible with the Holy Spirit we become. We have the gifts and the fruits of the Spirit to enable us to live holy and loving lives giving simple witness to the goodness of our God. Jesus’ Baptism reminds us that our baptism is a call to public service. We are here for the good of others. God has a plan for each of us.
Of course, we are weak. Jesus understands our frailty. We must not give up when we feel we have fallen short of God’s love. All we need do is repent. This is not just a matter of feeling sorry. It is a desire to allow our lives to be constantly moulded and formed by the Holy Spirit to the shape God requires in order to work through us. We are like diamonds. In our raw state we are a little rough and tarnished. The process of cutting and polishing seems extreme but it alone enables us to see the true value of the diamond. A diamond expert refers to cut, colour, clarity and cost. We Christians are formed by Christ, Church, conversion and charity.
We must not see our baptism as a one off event. Its significance passes dynamically into our daily living as Christians. In baptism, we have been grafted onto Christ and we are on duty at all times. Our parents brought us for baptism because they wanted us to have the fullness of life which only God can give. We too must seek to share the life of Jesus and quietly live lives of holiness and loving concern. It is our hope that those we minister to may ask us “Why?”. If they do, we will gladly tell them of the love of Jesus and the joy of our Christian faith. What security we feel as members of the Body of Christ and how we are nourished by God’s Word and Spirit in the sacred liturgy and sacramental life of the Church.
A final thought. Jesus knew His ministry would be demanding and the cost of love would be high. The Lord must have drawn great comfort when the Father expressed His approval of His Son at His Baptism. The Father will use the same words at the transfiguration. Praise has a powerful and positive effect on the one to whom it is given. Good managers, parents, teachers, priests, coaches, counsellors and volunteer co-ordinators all know the importance of praise. Praise is vital to anyone who is trying to get someone to confidently take the next step, stretch themselves and constantly strive to reach a higher level of commitment or performance. I want us all to feel the praise and approval of God upon us all, His children. We must not be too hard on ourselves. It is difficult to keep up the high standard of Christian life and we are only too human in the face of pressure and the demands of love and the world’s temptations. Let us all feel the pleasure of God shining on us today. I remember the words of Bishop Cleary at my ordination: “May the Lord Who has begun this good work in you bring it to completion”. Let us, as the Lord’s baptised people, be optimistic about the outcome of our lives and those we love and care for. I am sure this is how Jesus wants us to feel on the feast of His Baptism.
Fr. Gerard X