Baptism of the Lord
Dear friend, we know that all Christians have received the first religious rite (ceremony) called Baptism (or: The Sacrement of Baptism). In general, Baptism is “the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit, and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as children of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission…” (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.1213)
However, my friend, if we apply this notion of Baptism to the case of Jesus, we will face a challenging question: Jesus never sinned, why did he accept to receive an imperfect baptism (“with water”) by John Baptist that was supposed to help provoke a response of repentance and conversion to get ready for the perfect Baptism (“with the holy Spirit and fire”) by the Messiah when he came? Moreover, Jesus is the Only Son of God, does He need to repent? Of course not! Well then how do we understand his Baptism? Let’s contemplate him in the context of his Baptism.
A crowded group of people from all walks of life is coming to John to ask for his baptism. Among them are those who bear a guilty conscience. Some suffer loneliness due to years of running away from God’s love. One can feel a sense of low self-esteem caused by a miserable past. There is confusion and fear. There are eyes overwhelmed with tears. Some are striking their breast. Others are broken by betrayal. Some regret their ungrateful attitude. One can hear sounds of disappointment or even despair. Some do not see any future. All of them carrying their burden are moving toward John.
Suddenly but gently, Jesus appears among them without making any annoucement about his identity. He simply comes to them, like a gentle breeze. Nothing extraordinary seems to happen. The breeze Jesus peacefully joins the crowd, lovingly touching the people of flesh-and-bone. This ever mighty breeze is quietly breathing new life into their dead desert. He embraces them in his heart with a liberating respect and loving care. They touch the Living God without knowing it since He has becom one of them. Perhaps he is no different in their eyes. For his part, he not only knows who he is but also sees what these suffering people truly need. Deep down, they need to be assured that God loves them with all his heart and He is among them. Jesus is truly this God, but he chooses to quietly and gently come to them in this manner because he is afraid that they will startle and get scared away.
Dear friend, many will gradually recognize his true identity: the Loving God. They will flood to him to once again have life, confidence, hope, dignity, true self and happiness. Their broken heart will healed. Their sad soul will be revived. Their trouble life will find its peace. Many will better understand who Jesus is: the God who is totally self-humbling and self-offering. People will hear Paul of Tarsus, a man who used to persecute Christians, proclaim:
“Jesus Christ, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2, 6-8)
“God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Rm 5:8), and “…yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.” (Gal. 2:20)
Dear friend, when we receive Baptism, besides being freed from sin, we are born into a faith community and become an ‘official’ member of the family of Jesus. Moreover, as you know, when Jesus came out of the water that day, the heavens were opened, he saw the Spirit of God coming upon him and a voice from the heavens said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased…. Listen to him!” (Mt 3:17; Mk 9:7) As a result, once becoming members of Christ and being incorporated into his family, we take part in his mission. That mission is to make known the unconditional love of God by the way we live with others around us. There may be times when we feel difficult to love as Jesus does, but loving like him is exactly the best thing to make our human life most beautiful and noble. When facing those moments, may we recall his words: “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world… And I will be with you until the end of time.” (Jn 16:33; Mt 28:20)
Joseph Viet, O.Carm.