Baptism of the Lord
Today we celebrate The Baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan.”Reason demands that this feast of the Lord’s baptism should follow soon after the Lord’s birthday, during the same season, even though many years intervened between the two events. At Christmas… he was born from the Virgin; today he is born in mystery. When he was born a man, his mother Mary held him close to her heart; when he is born in mystery, God the Father embraces him with his voice when he says: ‘You are my beloved Son”. The mother caresses the tender baby on her lap; the Father serves his Son by his loving testimony. The mother holds the child for the Magi to adore; the Father reveals that his Son is to be worshiped by all the nations. Christ is baptized, not to be made holy by the water, but to make the water holy. The feast marks the end of the Christmas season.
In recent past weeks, we have gone through the mysteries of the infancy of Jesus. But in today’s liturgy, Jesus the baby has grown up into Jesus the man. He is a 30 year old man beginning his public life by being baptized in the Jordan. John the Baptizer hesitantly performs the ceremony; he is nervous as the Messiah steps into the water. Here Jesus’ divine sonship is attested by the Father’s voice and the descent of the Holy Spirit. We should see the event as a continuation of the Epiphany or revelation of Jesus’ identity.
First, his birth revealed him to Mary and Joseph, then an angel revealed him to the shepherds and a star revealed him to the Wise Men. Now, the Holy Trinity reveals him to his people and to us. St. Mark’ narrative focuses on the heavens that are torn open, not on the baptism itself. It is as if Mark wanted to tell us that, at long last, God has responded to Israel’s ancient longing for a Messiah: “You are my beloved Son. On you my favor rests.” At no other time in Israel’s history is an individual called my son. This relationship of Father and Son is something brand new under the sun, and it signals a new relationship of humankind with God.
What really separates Jesus from the rest of us is God’s action on him. The essential element is that God has spoken at his baptism. The description of Jesus by the heavenly voice as my beloved son, derives from the prophet Isaiah, and suggests that Jesus is the Servant of the Lord in complete loving obedience to the Father. The open heaven and the Spirit coming upon Jesus indicate that the gift of prophecy, which had ceased long ago, is again generously imparted by God. The Jewish people of that time mourned the loss of prophets and the silence of God. Now, with Jesus’ appearance, the heavens were again torn open and God’s Spirit came once more. God’s voice from heaven announced that, like Israel’s kings, Jesus is now comissioned to fulfill the task of being God’s Son. In a sort of enthronement of the Judean king, at his baptism Christ is installed by God in the everlasting role of Son of God. The words that Jesus heard at his baptism were words that resounded again and again in his heart as he accomplished all that God the Father wanted him to do.
The baptism of Jesus is a profound mystery. Baptism is a washing away of sin. But Jesus had no sin, so why then did he permit himself to be baptized by John? Because he wished to identify himself with a sinful humanity. He voluntarily chose to step into the Jordan River as a sign that he was willing to assume the burden of our sins -as Isaiah’s prophesied the Servant was to do (1st reading). This symbolic action by Jesus inaugurated his mission, which he himself told us was to serve, not to be served. Jesus is both Son and Servant of the Father, but not only of the Father; he served us as well. Jesus accepted full solidarity with us even if it meant being seen as a sinner. All of this is implied in this mystery of Jesus’ baptism.
Today, as we recall the baptism of Jesus and what it means, let us be mindful of our own baptism. We too are the beloved children of God through baptism. Baptism draws us into a deep fellowhip with Jesus and his ministry. In the waters of baptism we share in the sonship (grace) and servanthood (task) of Jesus. Today’s opening prayer makes us aware of our grace and our task: May all who share in the sonship of Christ follow in his path of service to man.