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Jan 9: The Baptism of the Lord Year A
Readings: Is 42: 1-4, 6-7; Acts 10:34-38; Matt 3:13-17
Baptized, anointed and doing good, are some of words and phrases that help us to understand the Solemnity we celebrate this Sunday - the Baptism of the Lord. But immediately we face the question of why Jesus had to be 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. Jesus knew what it was to be human. At the same time, the divinity of Jesus is manifested through His 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”. The Baptism of Jesus as recounted in the Gospel of 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. That anointing and commissioning underlines the power of Baptism that we have received. By virtue of our Baptism, we are sent on mission to give witness to Jesus Christ.
Peter in the second reading captures that idea of being sent on mission, in the case of Jesus who gives us an example. After Jesus' baptism, 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 fulfils Isaiah’s prophecy of bringing salvation to the nations. The dove that descends upon Jesus symbolises the nature of his mission as an agent of peace and reconciliation in the world. This Sunday, as we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, we are reminded of the power of our Baptism. Speaking of the power of Baptism, there was a true story about Mikhail Gorbachev. On March 19 2008, Nearly 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union's atheist empire, he admitted he was Christian all his life. Gorbachev's grandparents had him baptized secretly in the Russian Orthodox Church. On a visit to Italy in 2008, this last president of the Communist state prayed at the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi, and later told priests that the saint had played a fundamental role in his life. We can say without hesitation that his Baptism influenced him to bring an end to Communism and the Iron Curtain, which he transformed into glasnost - transparency. In the Gospel passage, though John the Baptist tries to resist baptizing Jesus, Jesus insists to be baptized. At that Baptism, the Holy Spirit of God descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove. The puzzling question of why should Jesus have to be baptized since he had no sin is an important question. The answer is twofold, and helps us to further understand the power of Baptism. 1) The first reason is that when Jesus is born, He becomes one with us. In His baptism, the Son of God becomes one with us in our sinfulness that is symbolically washed away in the waters of Baptism. 2) The second reason is that like us, Jesus is alienated from the Father, in order to lead us out of that isolation through his death and resurrection back to the Father. Therefore, Christ becomes immersed in our tainted human nature, in order to cleanse us and to reconcile us with the Father. So what message do we take home? 1) The Baptism of the Lord celebrates the mystery Baptism as an immersion with Christ and a rising with Him into new life. 2) Just as Jesus was anointed and sent by the Father to proclaim peace and to heal, we too are anointed and sent to proclaim God’s mercy, compassion and forgiveness. 3) The secret power of our baptism is found in our union with God that makes us powerful instruments of transforming the world by being agents of God’s peace and reconciliation in the world.
©2011 John S. Mbinda
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