Baptism of the Lord (Fr. Simham)
Today we celebrate the solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord. We remember how Jesus came to the waters of Jordan to be baptized by John.
On this solemnity of baptism of the Lord, the question people often ask is, ‘why was Jesus baptized?’ Why did he need a baptism? He is the Son of God; He is the ‘light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one being with the Father.’ And we also acknowledge and believe that, “Born of the virgin, he was like us in everything except sin” (GS22). And the baptism of John was a baptism of repentance. Confession of sins was an essential part of John’s baptism. And it is an attempt to put off old, failed life and receive new one. Is that something which Jesus could do? How could he confess his sins when he has none? How could he separate himself from his previous life in order to start a new life? This is the question the Christians could not avoid asking? Even John asks a similar question; “I need to be baptized by you, do you come to me?” (Mt. 3:14) In other words he was saying, ‘Jesus, you don’t need this baptism.’
But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” ‘Let it be so now’ means, ‘this is a specific, temporary situation that calls for a specific way of acting.’ ‘To fulfill all righteousness’ means ‘the whole of righteousness has to be fulfilled.’ How ‘righteousness’ can be fulfilled? By accepting God’s will and obeying it. What is God’s will for him? It is to carry the sins of humanity on his shoulders. When we look at Jesus’ baptism in the light of the cross, we can understand it clearly. As Jesus carried the burden of the cross which is the burden of our sins and experienced death which is a wages of our sins, and as Jesus went down to the dead and rose again, so also Jesus loaded the burden of all mankind’s guilt upon his shoulders; he bore it down to the depths of the Jordan and buried them there and inaugurated a new life, a new kingdom, kingdom of God. What he was going to fulfill on the cross, through his death and resurrection he already anticipated it in his baptism.
This is the new meaning he gave to Baptism of John. He took the Baptism of John which was a mere ritual and made it a sacrament where a person baptized is buried with him and is raised to a new life. St. Paul speaks about it in detail in his letter to Romans. “When we were baptized in Christ Jesus we were baptized in his death; in other words, when we were baptized we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life.” (Romans 6:3-4). And John Chrysostom also writes: “Going down into the water and emerging again are the image of descent into hell and the resurrection.” So the rebirth in baptism means ‘you are buried with Christ and you are born into new life of communion with Trinity.’
This is what is symbolized in what happened after the baptism of Jesus. This is also another new dimension added to the baptism of John. The heavens were opened; there is the voice of the Father acknowledging the divine son-ship of Jesus and the Holy Spirit descending upon him. What we see here is the communion of the Trinity at the time of baptism and direct unhindered communication of grace. Later on when he commanded his disciples to baptize people he told them, “baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” He commanded them to open this communication of grace to everyone. This is something which we often forget. Often we think baptism means cleansing or bathing or repenting or dying to your old self. All these things are true and essential. But Baptism is more than these. It is more of heaven being opened to you, and Father acknowledging you as his son or daughter and communicating his grace to you and your coming into union with Trinity.
That is why we Catholics stress so much about infant baptism. We encourage catholic parents to baptize their children as early as possible, because we understand that the baptism we give is not the baptism of John but the baptism of Jesus. By baptizing children we are bringing them into communion with the Trinity and initiating the life of grace in them. This is our first and foremost responsibility and duty as Catholic parents and guardians.
So, don’t be miss-lead by those who say, children are sinless and therefore they don’t need baptism until they become adults. Instead, those of you, parents who have not yet baptized your child please hurry up. Don’t waste time. Don’t deny your children the life of grace. And Grand-parents persuade your children to baptize their children. Don’t fail in your duty as Christian parents. Amen
Fr. Showreelu Simham