Baptism of the Lord (Fr. Vinner)
My brothers and sisters in Christ,
We begin the regular or “ordinary” church year with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord because that it is the event that begins Jesus’ three years of preaching, healing and saving. It may seem strange to us that he waited so long to begin his public life, but it was the type of life that took preparation. During Jesus’ time, one had to be thirty years old before they could become a priest even. During those thirty years, John the Baptist had been quite active. He was an eccentric character but not so eccentric that he didn’t draw multitudes of people to him. He was seen by the people of his time as a prophet and his messages were recognized as such. He was so popular and his message so strong that people even thought that he might be the Messiah himself. John’s calling came to him in the desert, and this is reminiscent of the whole Exodus story while the people were waiting in the desert to get to a Promised Land. Similarly, John is preaching a message about another promised land – this time a person, who is yet to come.
Today’s Gospel begins right after John has told them these things. They next want to know if he is the Messiah, the Christ. John answer’s them with three points. First, he is unworthy even to tie the shoe of the Christ; second, his baptism is different than the Christ’s all be; and third, the Christ will bring judgment to all the world. John explains that his baptism was a symbol for repentance which the person has already done. The Messiah’s baptism would bring the Holy Spirit and fire to the person. This is seen on Pentecost when tongues of fire descended on the Apostles and they received the Holy Spirit. The fire here is a symbol for the vigor with which they would then be able to proclaim the Gospel to others, to the world. The fire may also be a symbol for judgment as we heard John say before that the Messiah would separate the wheat from the chaff. The good news is that there is no need to fear judgment because we will have been able to repent and be forgiven. The scene Luke draws of Luke’s baptism is a little different from the other evangelists. He does not specifically say that John baptized him even. This could be that Luke wanted to put Jesus at the center of the baptism story and not John. Luke seems to make only a passing reference to Jesus’ baptism and this could be because the early church seemed embarrassed by he fact that Jesus was baptized at all. As I have pointed out in other years, the Gospel writers after Mark seemed upset that someone who could not have sinned was baptized, a symbol for repenting for sin. Matthew covered it by saying that Jesus wanted to be a role model of sorts. Luke just sort of passes over it, and focuses on the heavens opening and God speaking.
The “heavens opening” recalls Isaiah’s prayer that the heavens be opened and that God comes as he did in the exodus. After the heavens opened, Luke says that the Spirit came down on Jesus. Interesting, Luke comments that the Spirit had a bodily form like a bird, a dove. That is where we get a lot of our Christian images of the Spirit today as a dove. Apparently this image is a unique one and doesn’t appear in Hebrew literature – it is decidedly Christian. Why does Luke mention this dove? Probably to let his readers know that it was a real experience, a physical experience, one that could not be denied because it was “seen” by all. We will see the same sort of thing after the resurrection with comments made about Jesus’ eating and drinking and being touched. Then God speaks, and his words are a combination of words from Psalm 2, a psalm which was recited at a king’s coronation and the second half, from Isaiah in today’s first reading, who describes the servant of God. So the two halves combine with images of kingship and service.
In the second reading today from Acts, also written by Luke, we get in Peter’s speech another mention of the baptism which interprets it as the moment when the Holy Spirit empowered Jesus to begin his work on earth. Luke never says that he became God’s son at this moment – he already established earlier that he was born the Messiah Son of God – but that this was the moment when he was to begin his work on earth. Our first reading from Isaiah is chosen today because it picks up on the second half of God’s message of Jesus as the servant of God. The passage is about the suffering servant who achieves justice when God’s spirit is put upon him, the one who becomes a “light to the nations” and who opens the eyes of the blind. These are Epiphany themes that we saw last week. So everything is tied together, and Jesus is ready to begin his public life with the strength of the Spirit, the ideology of a servant, the genealogy of a king, and the backing of God.
What can we learn from these readings today then? First of all, that if we have repented in the season of Advent, saw the light with Christmas and Epiphany, we too are ready to be filled with the Spirit from our baptism and go out and do the things that we know that Jesus would want us to do. The social works that make for Jesus’ mission statement, showing lobe first to those in need, and then to all others, becoming one with our worshipping community and spending time in prayer with our God. It sounds simple, but we know it isn’t. We have a role model in Jesus’ life – we need to start living it! And that is what the baptism of the Lord reminds us of today and that is the Good News that we are called on to live today!
The baptism of Jesus reminds us of our identity. It reminds us of who we are and Whose we are. By Baptism we become sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus, members of his Church, heirs of Heaven and temples of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’ baptism reminds us also of our mission: a) to experience the presence of God within us, to acknowledge our own dignity as God’s children, and to appreciate the Divine Presence in others by honoring them, loving them and serving them in all humility; b) to live as the children of God in thought, word and action; c) to lead holy and transparent Christian lives and not to desecrate our bodies (the temples of the Holy Spirit and members of Jesus’ Body), by impurity, injustice, intolerance, jealousy or hatred; d) to accept both the good and the bad experiences of life as the gifts of a loving Heavenly Father for our growth in holiness; and e) to grow daily in intimacy with God by personal and family prayers, by meditative reading of the Word of God, by participating in the Holy Mass, and by frequenting the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is a day to thank God for the graces we have received in Baptism, to renew our Baptismal promises and to preach Christ’s “Good News” by our transparent Christian lives of love, mercy, service and forgiveness.
May God Bless us.
FR. S.Vinner HGN