To read the texts click on the texts: Is40:1-5,9-11; Tit 2:11-14, 3:4-7; Lk 3:15-16,21-22
The feast of the Baptism of the Lord concludes the Advent-Christmas liturgical season. It is also the first Sunday in Ordinary Time.
The baptism itself is an event that is narrated in all the synoptic gospels and, though the Gospel of John does not narrate the event, it is referred to in John’s testimony to Jesus. The fact that all the Evangelists either narrate the event or allude to it is a clear indication that the early Church saw the baptism as of prime importance in the life of Jesus. The Synoptic writers also looked upon this event as foundational to the ministry of Jesus.
Why is this so? What did the baptism of Jesus mean for the Evangelists and for the early Church? What does it mean for us today?
In order to answer these questions, it is important to note the distinctive features in Luke’s narration of the Baptism scene. First, Luke, alone of the evangelists, has John in prison before Jesus is baptized, which is why he does not mention that it was John who baptized Jesus. While this serves, on the one hand, to show that Jesus is definitely greater than John, it also serves to point out the fact that, with the Baptism of Jesus, John’s work and era is over. A new era, the era of Jesus, has begun. Second, Luke, alone, has Jesus praying at the time of his baptism and the Holy Spirit descending on him in “bodily form” like a dove. By adding this detail, Luke emphasizes both tangibility and inexpressibility. The tangibility is expressed through the words “in bodily form” and the inexpressibility is expressed by stating that it was not a dove, but “like a dove”. The opening of heaven, at the baptism of Jesus, signals that he is the Messiah and that the fulfillment of Israel’s eschatological expectations is at hand. If the closing of heaven brought drought, the opening of heaven brings God’s blessings. God’s power and mercy are about to be revealed. Third, Luke, like Mark, has the voice from heaven address Jesus as “Beloved Son”. The voice at the baptism of Jesus, therefore, discloses both the identity of the Son and the character of the Father. Jesus is the “agapetos” of God and God is “Father”.
By placing the text of the baptism at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Luke states that all that Jesus will do in his ministry is through the empowerment, blessing, and approval of his father. By submitting to God’s grace, Jesus finds his identity and the affirmation from the father that he is, indeed, on the right course of action.
This course of action is explicated beautifully by Isaiah in the first reading of today. With the coming of Jesus, and the beginning of his ministry, a new age had dawned. Punishment and penalty are things of the past. Now, Comfort is what people will experience. In other words, baptism brings forth God's comfort, which is forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness of sins and comfort come both at the same time and, for this reason, joy is overflowing. The former word of promise, and the new word of fulfillment, doubles what we might ever have imagined true joy to be. The Lord, who comes to rule, is a God who will judge tenderly, not to punish but, to gather. He will be like a shepherd who gathers the sheep to his bosom and carries them home.
Even as we experience this, because of the baptism and ministry of Jesus, there is another side to the story. It is that we, too, like Jesus, have been baptized and so have experienced, like he did, the outpouring of the Spirit. This means that, like Jesus, we, too, have the responsibility of bringing healing and forgiveness to our broken world. This we can do, as the letter to Titus points out, by giving up everything that does not lead to God. This would mean giving up all kinds of selfish and self centered attitudes that make us concentrate only on ourselves. This would mean giving up worldly ambitions which create in us the desire to have more rather than to be more and to accumulate for ourselves, even at the cost and peril of others. This would mean reaching out in loving service, as Jesus has shown us, even if we are inconvenienced or put out. This would mean giving till it hurts, just as Jesus gave, when he gave, not merely gifts and healing, but his very self.
At our Baptism, we receive the kindness and love of God. We receive these gifts, not because of any righteous action on our part or because we merited it, as the letter to Titus reminds us. We receive them because God, in Jesus, is a compassionate, caring, and loving God. The consequence of the Baptism of Jesus was the giving of himself. What will be the consequence of our Baptism?