JESUS IDENTIFIES HIMSELF WITH HUMAN KIND
Is. 42:1-4,6-7; Acts 10:34-38; Matt 3:13-17
Today’s Feast marks the conclusion of the Christmas Season and the beginning of Ordinary Time. It is a feast of transition from Jesus’ hidden life to that of His public ministry. It also echoes the theme of the Epiphany in that the Baptism of the Lord is another manifestation announcing Jesus’ divinity to all of His first followers and to the world. The baptism of Jesus was an important event in the ministry of Jesus. It was so important that it is one of the events recorded in all 4 gospels. Matthew’s account, which constitutes today’s gospel, gives us the most information about what happened.
- WHY DID JESUS NEED TO BE BAPTIZED?
John preached that people needed to repent of their sins, and he baptized them as a symbol of that repentance (Mk 1:4; Lk 3:3). If Jesus was a sinless individual (And we know that he was sinless), then why did he come to be baptized? John the Baptist posed the same question to Jesus. In the Gospel of Matthew, we see a parallel account of this same story. “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him” (Matthew 3:13-16). We know that when John protested Jesus told him that he needed to be baptized “to fulfill all righteousness.” That was good enough for John. Yet, it still leaves some confusion in the air. What was the point of Jesus’ baptism?
- JESUS WAS IDENTIFYING HIMSELF WITH HUMAN KIND
By submitting to a baptism for repentance from sin, Jesus was identifying himself with us. Consider how humbling this must have been for the Son of Man. He was the perfect Son of God, yet he willingly underwent the baptism of repentance even though He had nothing of which to repent. He did it out of obedience to the Father and out of love for us. Jesus was showing that he had become like us in order to save us. This is further echoing of the epiphany of Jesus.
Because of this step of Jesus towards us, we must not be afraid to “get dirty”. (Pope Francis exhorts: Priests should not be afraid to smell like the sheep they are shepherds to!) Jesus came to the earth to identify with us—to put himself in our situation so that he could help us out. Let us look at the people we encounter each week. Is there someone who we can help? Maybe there’s someone we may have even thought to ourselves, “I wish somebody would help them.” You are that “somebody”! You can help!
- JESUS AFFIRMS THE PERSON AND THE WORK OF JOHN
By accepting the baptism of John, Jesus affirmed all that John the Baptist had said and done. He also affirmed John’s sacred role of preparing the way for Him and for a new era of grace. Jesus was helping to fulfill the prophecy about Elijah from the book of Malachi that John the Baptist was the one who would prepare the way for the Lord. Therefore, the Baptism of Jesus acts as a bridge between the Old Testament prophets (of which John was the last) and the New Testament era of grace and truth.
- JESUS LEVELS THE PLAYING FIELD OF SALVATION
God is not a respecter of persons; but he accepts anyone from any family, nation, and race who fears God and does what is right (Acts 10:35). Today’s second reading from the Acts of the Apostles is a sermon delivered by Peter in the house of the Roman centurion Cornelius just before baptizing him and his companions. It is an appropriate reading for the Baptism of the Lord, which for us is a model of the baptism of every Christian. “Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35). This text points to the fact that Baptism is an admission into the covenant household of God.
In the Old Dispensation, God chose the Jews. Once born a Jew, one belonged automatically to the covenant people of God. Non-Jews, Gentiles, were automatically excluded from God’s covenant blessings. The criterion for belonging to God’s people was natural birth. In the New Dispensation in Christ all that changed. Now, God has no preference for one nation over others. As Peter came to realize, “God has no favourites, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him (Acts 10:34-35). Jesus levels the playing field of salvation. In baptism we choose to become people of God, children of God, equally loved by God as were the covenant children of God of old, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. What happens after that, whether we turn out to become saints or sinners, depends not on the presence or absence of God’s love for us but on how much we love God and do what is right.
- THE BAPTISM OF JESUS FURTHER MANIFESTS HIS DIVINITY
After he was baptized, Jesus apparently got out of the water and immediately began to pray (says Luke). God the Father opened the heavens and spoke out loud a word of affirmation to him. He said, “You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” As this was happening, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus. This event is significant for a couple of reasons:
- a) First, it identifies Jesus as the Messiah, the One that God had promised would come to redeem His people. John the Baptist was looking for this specific sign to know that the Messiah had come.
- b) Second, we get a glimpse of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity simply says: there is one God, but He exists (always has and always will) in three persons: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. At this scene, we have the privilege to see all three members of the Godhead at once. The Father speaks, declares that Jesus is the Son, and that the Father is pleased with Him. And then we see the Holy Spirit coming down and settling on Jesus like a dove. Whether this means that an actual dove descended from heaven, or (more likely) that the way the Spirit appeared reminded people of a dove, we do not know, but we see the Holy Spirit making His appearance here as well. This passage is one of the clearest examples we see of the absolute and perfect unity of the Trinity. It gives us a glimpse of who God is. No wonder all four of the gospel writers saw this as a significant event—because clearly God did too!
- JESUS’ BAPTISM MARKS THE OFFICIAL BEGINNING OF HIS MINISTRY
The baptism of Jesus was a turning point in Jesus’ life. The gospel writers point to this event as the official beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry and an opportunity for God to give evidence that Jesus was the Messiah. What is it that we should learn from this event?
- a) Jesus’ baptism was an act of obedience
Jesus’ baptism was an act of obedience to the Father—and both the Father and the Holy Spirit responded with approval. His ministry is to be carried out in obedience to the Father. We learn that obedience pleases God. As said earlier, Jesus had no practical need for baptism. But he went to John. He knew that God’s will was for him to participate in this baptism. So, he did what God commanded him to do.
- b) His baptism gives us access to God
Jesus’ baptism is like the first pieces in a bridge that would only be completed at the cross, and his rising from the dead. The bridge Jesus was building is designed to give us a way to have a new and restored relationship with God. This bridge provides a way for sinful people to be forgiven, for broken people to be restored, and for lost people to found. The attitude that Jesus shows at his baptism gives us a glimpse of the attitude he would have throughout his earthly ministry. It also reflects the attitude that we should have. Look at what St. Paul says in Philippians chapter 2: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11).
Paul points out that there was great humility in Jesus’ coming to earth. He didn’t have to come. But he came to spend his time among sinful people, people who opposed God at nearly every opportunity. Jesus took on a human body. As a result, he experienced hunger, thirst, sickness, and pain. As a child, he submitted to his parents even though he was God. Jesus didn’t demand the respect he deserved, instead he let it go and became like us. He also allowed those in power to arrest him, beat him, and eventually kill him in one of the cruelest and humiliating forms of capital punishment ever devised. He did all this in order to demonstrate his love for us, and to give us an example of what it means to truly love. His humble actions (and his words) say that anyone who comes to him can be forgiven.
- BAPTISM AND THE EVERY-DAY LIFE OF A CHRISTIAN
Sad to say, many Christians today take baptism for granted. They do not even remember their baptismal day. Many parents and godparents are guilty of this failure also. They know and remember their birthdays, but not their baptism days. Many people view their baptism as just name-giving ceremony and an opportunity to have a party. It is reduced to a mere registration into the church, parallel with civil registration, where at the end one receives a “birth certificate”. Parents and godparents forget that during baptism, they took upon themselves the duty to bring up the child according to the teachings and values of Jesus Christ and the Church. Baptisms is often reduced to a mere social event. Little appreciation for baptism as initiation into new life in Christ, is manifested.
Consequently, many baptized kids grow up grossly ignorant of religious instructions and duties as Christians. In effect, they grow up as Christians in name only. They go to church only three times in their lives – when baptized, married, buried. Or, as an Englishman put it: “When they are ‘hatched, matched, and dispatched’ (to the cemetery).” As true Christians, baptism is not an action which happens once and has no further significance for our life. Rather, all the significance of this sacrament touches on every aspect of the daily living of the Christian. It is not enough for us just to accept baptism passively as something done to us. We must also allow it to become an operative power impelling us to act as Christ did.
- BAPTISM IMPLIES INVOLVEMENT
Immediately Jesus was baptized and he stepped out of the water, there was no more rest for him. The heavens opened; a voice declared him the Son of God; the Holy Spirit came down on him; he was chased after by people who wanted his services. Up until this moment, Jesus must have lived a quiet life. This quiet came to an end with his baptism. Baptism actually ‘betrayed him’. It revealed him to the world. From thence, people never left him alone, until his death on the cross.
“God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; … he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38). Like Jesus, we are anointed in baptism with the Holy Spirit and with power so that we can go about doing good and healing all who are oppressed by the devil. Our anointing is not a decoration or a reward, it is a commission. In baptism we are commissioned to be members of Christ, that is, Christ’s arms, feet, ears and mouth. We become other Christs. That is a daunting task. But God empowers us with His Holy Spirit as we go about our Christian duties. God himself is with us as He was with Jesus, so we need not fear the enormity of the challenge before us, for with God all things are possible.
For any true Christian, baptism implies stepping into the crowd, and getting involved with the problems of the world and one’s own problems. Baptisms entails accepting commitments. It means getting rubbing shoulder with others. A true baptized can NEVER BE UNINVOLVED!! An atheist once commented about Christians: “If Christians are the light of the world, then somebody has forgotten to turn the switch on.” If we are real Christians, then we cannot be uninvolved. Our light must shine to the full view of others. The world around us is falling apart, but we are lifting no finger to help, under the pretext of not wanting to “interfere” in other people’s affairs. There are Christians in most of the High offices in our country, but corruption injustice and exploitation of the weak still prevail! On this feast of our Lord’s Baptism, we are reminded of our baptismal call to be involved fully in the life of our families, our church, our country, our world… in order that we may contribute in making it a better place, by switching on our Christian lights.