Today, we solemnly celebrate the feast of “The Baptism of the Lord.” Till yesterday, we celebrated an ‘infant Jesus.’ From today, we celebrate an ‘adult Jesus.’ This is why today’s celebration marks the transition from the liturgical season of Christmas into the liturgical season of Ordinary Time.
The baptism of Our Lord Jesus by John the Baptist in the River Jordan is an important event in Jesus’ life with profound significance. It is highly symbolic, having deep meaning with numerous implications. It’s importance is characterized with the fact that all the three Evangelists of the Synoptic Gospels speak of this striking event. Although there are slight differences in their individual accounts – in reality however, all of them unanimously agree that the baptism of Our Lord Jesus also marks the beginning of his public ministry.
One may wonder, and even find it difficult to understand, and may ask the question: ‘Why did Jesus need to be baptized by John the Baptist in the first place?’ John the Baptist preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and therefore, most of those coming to him were repentant sinners. But Jesus was sinless; he did not commit any sin; so, in no way did he need this baptism of John the Baptist.
Again, John the Baptist wasn’t the one who introduced baptism for the first time. From earlier time on, the Jewish people knew and were used to baptism, but they did not submit to it. Actually, it was used as an initiation rite for the pagan converts to Judaism from some other faith, which they considered sin-stained or polluted. Even this aspect of baptism is still retained – when we are baptized, we are initiated into the Church and become its members.
‘So, why did Jesus, the Sinless One, submit himself to John’s baptism?’
For two reasons:
Firstly, Jesus did it to show his unity and solidarity with the human race, which he came to save. In lining up for baptism by John like a sinner, Jesus set aside all exemption for himself and completely identified with the sinful humanity and became one like them. In this humble submission, we see a foreshadowing of the ‘baptism’ of his bloody death upon the cross. Jesus’ baptism is the acceptance and the beginning of his mission as God’s suffering Servant. He allowed himself to be numbered among sinners. He submitted himself entirely to his Father’s will. Out of love he consented to this baptism of death for the remission of our sins.
Secondly, he did it to sanctify the water of baptism, so that our sins are washed away and we come to a state of grace in order to follow him. This meaning of baptism in relation to forgiveness of sins is still maintained. When we are baptized, the original sin, as well as personal sins are washed away; we become free from sin and acquire the state of holiness & grace.
Now, Jesus’ baptism in the river Jordan by John the Baptist gives a new, fuller and divine meaning to our own baptism. This extraordinary event was also an epiphany a manifestation or a revelation of who Jesus was – the Divine witness to Jesus’ standing as the Son of God. The Jordan scene was also one in which the threefold presence of God was manifested. The Spirit was seen in the form of a dove and the Son was affirmed by the Father – “And while he prayed, the heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven which said, ‘You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.’”
In baptism, we too are named by God. All of us have different names, signifying our uniqueness before God. Yet in baptism, all of us are given the same name, ‘child of God,’ signifying our oneness with God and our unity with one another in God. God says to Jesus at his baptism, ‘You are my beloved Son, . . .’ God says the same thing to each one of us in our baptism, ‘You are my beloved daughter, my beloved son.’
Again, the Gospel speaks of two baptisms today. The first baptism is, of course, that of Jesus. The second one, though, is the one that we will receive “with the Holy Spirit and with fire”. That through our own baptism we are saved, renewed, justified and made heirs of the kingdom of heaven. “For when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit..’
In baptism, we have been ‘tattooed,’ so to speak, branded or identified by God as belonging to a community of disciples. Jesus is our master. Baptism is not just a simple rite or milestone in one’s life: it is a transforming experience in which God lives in us and we live in God. That’s our identity, our indelible brand. We become empowered by God’s grace, God’s favor, to live as a disciple of Jesus.
Jesus’ baptism serves as a model for our baptism. For Jesus, baptism represents the beginning of his ministry. And what is that work that Jesus is to accomplish through his teaching, preaching and healing ministry?
The Lord is coming in the person of Jesus: “He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms and carry them in his bosom and gently lead the mother sheep.” He is the Bread of Life and the Good Shepherd.
Our baptism is linked with that of Jesus. With baptism our new life of grace begins; it is a fresh start and also the gateway to the rest of Christian life. What we should be prepared for is that our journey of faith, much like Jesus’ journey, continues to unfold long after our baptism as we try to discern what our baptism means in our daily living.
In his baptism, Jesus laid the foundation for a new dispensation of grace. From hence through the Sacrament of Baptism, the recipient begins a new life by establishing a union with the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and the Holy Spirit and receiving the gift of faith. In this new birth, the believer receives remission from sin, receives the Spirit of son ship, which enables him or her to become a child of God and a member of the Church, and a citizen of heaven. This way baptism becomes the gateway to the life of grace and the door, which gives access to the other sacraments. In so doing, it defines the believer’s rights and responsibilities as a Christian, his/her privileges and mission.
Today, we celebrate the feast of “The Baptism of the Lord” by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. And in so doing, the Church invites all of us to renew our own baptismal promises, so that we can live ever more transparently as a disciple of Jesus, trying to do what is right, and true, and good, and beautiful.
By being baptized, even though he had no need to be cleansed from sin himself, Jesus takes our place. And we in turn, when we are baptized, are called to take Jesus’ place, to become ‘sons in the Son.’ Thus through baptism, we put on Christ; we are clothed with Christ; we become one with Christ; we become another Christ.
Baptism and Confirmation are not simply pretty ceremonies we do, any more than Matrimony and Holy Orders are just pretty ceremonies we do. We have to live, to practice what this pretty ceremonies call us for. Be a wife and mother, husband and father in practice day by day to the end of your life. When you are ordained as a priest live your live as a priest day by day, celebrate Mass, hear confessions do what you were ordained to do. Same with the sacrament of baptism we not supposed to stop here but live our baptism day by day as son and daughter of God. You are being saved by working with the grace of the sacrament day by day to the rest of your life. They are “serious business” and we must all take them seriously. Why? Because they are events in which we respond to God’s calling to us. In them we bring the redeeming Presence of Christ to the world around us.
Finally, it is very true that we receive baptism only once in our lifetime, but it is never a one-time event; we have to live and keep our baptismal promises throughout our life. That is to say that we have to conform to Christ more and more daily. In other words, we who have received the grace of baptism must endeavor always to live up to our baptismal promises throughout our life.