13 January: The Baptism of the Lord
Readings: Isaiah 42: 1-4, 6-7; Acts 10:34-38; Matthew 3:13-17
Baptized, anointed, and doing good are some of words and the phrases we hear in the readings of today as we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. But immediately we face the question of why Jesus was baptized since he had no sin. One reason given is that God wanted Jesus to begin his ministry by symbolically identifying himself with sinful humanity in order to save it. Jesus therefore identified with humanity not as a sinner, but as a fellow human being. At the same time, the divinity of Jesus is manifested through that baptism by John in the river Jordan. As Jesus comes out of the water, the heavens open and the Spirit of God descends upon Jesus, and the Father’s voice affirms who Jesus is: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”. This baptism as recounted in the Gospel reading by Matthew, signifies the anointing of Jesus by the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and the Father’s commissioning of Jesus for his ministry that begins thereafter.
According to St. Peter in the second reading, it was only after Jesus' baptism that he "went about doing good and curing all who had fallen into the power of the devil". It was for this purpose that the Father had anointed him with the Holy Spirit and sent him on his earthly mission. In the words of the Prophet Isaiah, the Father appoints Jesus as “a covenant of the people and a light of the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to free captives from prison, and those who live in darkness from dungeon”. Thus Jesus is the one who fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy of bringing salvation to the nations. The dove that descends upon Jesus symbolizes the nature of his mission as an agent of peace and reconciliation in the world. This Sunday, as we celebrate Jesus' Baptism, we are reminded of our Baptism. This challenges us to reflect on the meaning of our own baptism. There are 3 important aspect of baptism. 1) Baptism is an incorporation into the Church, whereby through the waters of baptism one becomes a member of the Church in the presence of other members. Ideally, baptism should take place during the Sunday Mass, but for pastoral reasons that is not possible in large parishes. 2) Baptism is a call to discipleship. That is why adults preparing for baptism go through a period of catechumenate (period of gradual initiation into Christian life) in order to make sure they know what that call is about. The call to discipleship includes not only prayer and good works, but also the preparedness to give one’s life in witness for Christ. 3) Baptism is a commissioning whereby the baptized are made sharers of the Church’s mission to proclaim the kingdom of God. Briefly, in the waters of baptism, we have been incorporated, called to discipleship and commissioned for God’s mission through the Church. The message we take home today is two-fold: 1) As disciples of Christ, we are called to follow Jesus and live a life worthy of our calling; a life of close relationship with Christ; 2) By virtue of our baptism, we have been anointed and commissioned to give witness to the Lord by being agents of peace and reconciliation in the world. Baptism makes us sharers in the Church’s mission to proclaim the kingdom of God; to be living witnesses of that kingdom.
©2008 John M. Mbinda