FEAST OF THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD (2022)
Readings:Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7Psalms 29:1-4, 9-10Acts 10:34-38Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord brings to a liturgical close the great Christmas season, while it also starts the scriptural beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Up to this point in time we can assume Jesus lived the life of a simple craftsman in Nazareth. No significant crowds followed Jesus to the Jordan; He went of His own accord.
He had surely heard of His cousin who was making a name for himself, encouraging people to repent and be baptized. John, who we call the Baptist, desired a radical conversion, and people’s willingness to be baptized by him, was a sign and symbol of their desire to accept John’s call to a different life. Jesus identified with the tax collectors, soldiers, and throngs of ordinary folk going to see and be baptized by John, He shared their hopes and dreams. It is likely that there were no Scribes or Pharisees in the crowd, for the self-righteous feel little need to make major changes in their lives.
Unlike the majority of us who were carried to a baptismal font as infants, Jesus was a young man who willingly chose to present Himself to John. While most of us remember little to nothing about our own baptisms, Jesus will remember this day clearly. He sensed, perhaps, that now truly was the time “to be about His Father’s business,” and His peripatetic ministry needed to begin if He was going to become “a covenant of the people, a light for the nations,” who “opens the eyes of the blind,” who “brings out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeons, those who live in darkness.” From the moment Jesus was left behind at the Temple, one can be sure that Jesus spent much of His non-working hours for eighteen years studying the Scriptures – He knew what the Scriptures had to say about the long awaited Messiah.
John the Baptist’s ministry gives flesh to Peter’s statement in our second reading: “in truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to [God].” I picture Jesus feeling very comfortable with the crowds approaching John, waiting His turn, expecting no special treatment. These were the people Jesus would reach out to during His upcoming ministry – the poor and disenfranchised, tax collectors and those thought to be sinners, the sick and impure, those standing on the fringes of society. Jesus had a comfortable compassion for His companions on the way to the Jordan River, and perhaps He sensed for the first time, that “they were like sheep without a shepherd.”
Jesus would remember His baptism, especially because He received at the hands of John something more than what others had received. Jesus received not just a baptism, but an affirmation and a naming. The heavens open, and “the Holy Spirit descended upon [Jesus] in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”” Luke wanted to make sure that no one reading his gospel would think the experience of Jesus was private, for His ears only. No, the dove descends in bodily form, and the voice from heaven is clearly audible, thundering like the clouds (Ps 29:3).
Except for the few and the blessed who were privileged to be baptized as adults at the Easter Vigil, few of us remember the details of our own baptism, and yet the circumstances were no less dramatic than that of Jesus’ baptism by John. What started on the shores of the Jordan would be continued by the One who would baptize, not with just water, but with “the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16). While we had little to do with our baptism, those who brought us to the baptismal font so cherished their faith that they wanted to share it with us, and start us on a journey that would cause us to discover who Jesus, the Christ, truly is, and what He expects from us. While we can’t remember, Jesus walked with our parents and godparents to the font, just as He walked with the crowds in today’s gospel – its where He wanted to be. He wanted to share with us the light of His gospel, and although it was just the beginning of a long journey, He believed in us and believed we would see the journey through to the end.
From the beginning, Jesus wishes to be with us, with all our faults and foibles, with all our sins and transgressions. He wants what John the Baptist wanted, the knowledge that our lives could be better, that the possibility of change is not frightening, that we are capable of a radical conversion. Our baptisms are just the beginning of a journey, and at various points in that journey we strive harder to be the people that God wants us to be. Some days we will be close; other days far away. Baptism doesn’t confer a once-and-for-all holiness, and while it may wash away the stain of original sin, there will be other sins to fill in that blank. The message of Christmas is meant to be with us every minute of the journey – God is with us – in good times and in bad, in moments of goodness and sinfulness, and He still speaks to us as He spoke to Jesus: “you are my beloved sons and daughters; with you I am well pleased.”