BAPTISM OF THE LORD

Is 42:1-4, 6-7;         Acts 10:34-38;       Mt 3:13-17

Too many people come to Church three times primarily. They’re baptized, they get married, and they have their funeral service at the Church. The first time they throw water on you, the second time rice, the third time dirt!

Johnny’s Mother looked out the window and noticed him “playing church” with their cat. He had the cat sitting quietly and he was preaching to it. She smiled and went about her work. A while later she heard loud meowing and hissing and ran back to the open window to see Johnny baptizing the cat in a tub of water. She called out, “Johnny, stop that! The cat is afraid of water!” Johnny looked up at her and said, “He should have thought about that before he joined my church.”

Neither John nor Jesus invented baptism. It had been practiced for centuries among the Jews as a ritual equivalent to our Confession. Men took this bath weekly on the eve of the Sabbath; women, monthly. Converts were also expected to take this bath before entering Judaism. The orthodox Jews still retain the rite. John preached that such a bath was a necessary preparation for the coming Messiah. Jesus transformed this continuing ritual into the one single, definitive act by which we begin our life of faith. In effect, he fused his divine essence with the water and the ceremony.

The baptism of John the Baptist was a baptism of repentance. It was a sign that the people repented their sins. But why did Jesus, the sinless Son of God, receive the ‘baptism of repentance’ meant for sinners? It was to show his solidarity with us sinners needing forgiveness; it was to identify himself with the poor, the distressed and oppressed, needing justice.

Jesus’ baptism by John was a mystical experience that Jesus felt deep within his soul at the crucial turning point of his life. First, it was a moment of decision. It marked the end of Jesus’ private life, which prepared him for his public ministry. Second, it was a moment of identification with his people in their God-ward movement initiated by John the Baptist. Third, it was a moment of approval. Jesus might have been waiting for a signal of approval from his heavenly Father, and during his baptism Jesus got this approval of himself as the Father’s “beloved Son”. Fourth, it was a moment of conviction. At this baptism, Jesus received certainties (assurances) from heaven about his identity and the nature of his mission: a) He was the “Chosen One” and the “beloved Son of God”; b) his mission of saving mankind would be fulfilled, not by conquering the Romans, but by becoming the “suffering servant” of God, i.e., by the cross. Fifth, it was a moment of equipment. When He descended on Jesus in the form of a dove (symbol of gentleness), the Holy Spirit equipped Jesus with the power of preaching the “Good News” that God is a loving Father, Who wants to save all human beings from their sins through His Son Jesus.

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 a holy and transparent Christian life 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; 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. 

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