The Baptism of the Lord (C) – 10 January 2010
Readings: Is 42:1-4, 6-7 or Is 40:1-5, 9-11; Ps 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10; Acts 10:34-38 or Ti 2:11-14; 3:4-7; Lk 3:15-16, 21-22
This Sunday we officially end the Christmas season with the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus Christ.
Our liturgy, reflecting the Bible, chronologically bypasses most of Jesus’ childhood and adolescent years, and sets the stage for the start of His public ministry. The readings tell of an adult Jesus, mature in grace and wisdom, ready to take on the mission reserved for Him from all eternity.
In Eastern Rite Churches, the Feast of the Epiphany is a commemoration not of the visit of the wise men but of the baptism of the Lord. They call it the Feast of the Theophany, “the appearance of God”.
The Christmas season is actually marked by three feasts celebrating the appearance of God: Christmas, Epiphany and Baptism of the Lord.
There is another "theophany" in next Sunday’s Gospel: Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding in Cana. But we here in the Philippines do not get to read this passage next Sunday. Instead we return to the incident of the child Jesus in the Temple, which is the text for the Feast of the Santo Niño.
1. The Baptism of the Lord reveals (sufficiently though never fully) the mystery of God.
a. The narrative offers a glimpse into the mystery of the Trinity. A fuller reading reveals the Persons of the Trinity, not fully defined but narrated as working in harmony with each other.
b. The story demonstrates the nature of the Incarnation. Christ need not undergo John’s baptism of repentance for He is in all things human except in sin. Yet he insisted to be baptized as well, thus choosing to be in solidarity with humanity’s sinful condition and yearning for redemption. John’s protestations (in the other Gospel versions) serve all the more to highlight the message.
Jesus need not become man, but He chooses to be one of us. Jesus need not suffer and be killed, but He chooses to die for us. This is how God chooses to reveal Himself to us and share His life with us.
c. The account defines the character of Christ’s mission. Isaiah 42,1 says: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, Upon whom I have put my spirit…” Notice how Luke uses the same words to describe Christ’s baptism event.The evangelist points to Jesus as the very servant referred to in the prophecy of Isaiah.
Christ’s mission is thus revealed as Trinitarian. He is God with us. He is also the Father’s obedient Son. And His power comes from the Spirit. He will bring about justice with gentleness, and bring out those in darkness into His light.
2. The Baptism of the Lord reminds us of our own baptism.
Like John’s, ours is a baptism for the forgiveness of sins. But because of Jesus, ours is no less than a birth into new life in Christ. What might this entail?
First, a “sexist” story… One day, three men were hiking and unexpectedly came upon a large raging, violent river. They needed to get to the other side, but had no idea how to do so. The first man prayed to God, saying, "Please God, give me the strength to cross this river."
Poof! God gave him big arms and strong legs, and he was able to swim across the river in about two hours, after almost drowning a couple of times.
Seeing this, the second man prayed to God, saying, "Please God, give me the strength …and the tools to cross this river."
Poof! God gave him a rowboat and he was able to row across the river in about an hour, after almost capsizing the boat a couple of times.
The third man had seen how this worked out for the other two, so he also prayed to God saying, "Please God, give me the strength and the tools ...and the intelligence to cross this river."
And poof! God turned him into a woman. She looked at the map, hiked upstream a couple of hundred yards, then walked across the bridge to the other side.
Through baptism, God equips us with the strength of sanctifying grace, the support of the community of faith, and access into the wisdom and guidance of Scriptures and Tradition.
But baptism is not a self-sufficient, stand-alone sacrament that assures us of membership in the Church and forgiveness of sins. It is rather the beginning of our new life in the community of the Trinity and the Church.
By baptism, God expects us to grow, learn, love, serve, and flourish within this community of faith in order to enjoy fullness of life.
As we celebrate this great theophany of Jesus at His baptism, I would like to leave these questions for reflection:
a. How committed am I to live up to my baptismal promises which I renew yearly at Easter Sunday?
b. Have I devoted myself enough to growing in faith by reading the Bible, learning about the teachings of the Church, and discerning God’s will for me?
c. How much of my time, effort and resources have I given so that the Church, the community of faith I was baptized into, could continue to nurture me and others?
d. Have I reached out enough to my many "nominal Catholic" friends and family members, and journey with them back to the Lord?