Each year, Mother Church offers us an occasion to celebrate the baptism of Jesus which is an opportunity reminding us our own baptism. In the process of rethinking, we have to keep in mind that Baptism is not a final goal, but the beginning of a lifelong process of becoming a Christian.
First reading: Isaiah 55:1-11
We just heard: All you who are thirsty come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk! Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy? Isaiah 55:1-2. Here is God’s divine invitation to us. Simple observation can confirm that a number of people may not see the need of such invitation, yet there are many with hidden hunger for acceptance and respect. Thousands of years ago Qoheleth wrote: “I surrounded myself with every possible pleasure. I did not withhold my heart and my very self from any joy or any pleasure. Then one day I drew a line under the total of it all and came up with a sum that amounted to nothing” Ecclesiastes 2:10-11. The truth is that human persons are by majority like a wasted land, devastated and spiritually dry living in a modern desert of who cares.
After decades in exile, Israelite captives began to grow accustomed to the Babylonian way of life. Some were spending their money for ‘what is not bread’ and wages for ‘what fails to satisfy’ by seeking life from other sources. But Prophet Isaiah kept their hopes alive by offering them visions of a joyous homecoming whereby God would celebrate their return by hosting a banquet that lasts forever involving no cost, no bargaining and no exchange of money with free wine and milk, the true necessities of life symbolizing God’s generosity. All who share in this banquet will be always satisfied. Here Prophet Isaiah puts us face to face with three important truths 1. God is not in a distant heaven but right here in our hearts. 2. Whoever turns to him for mercy will receive it. 3. God is not limited by our thoughts. He is high above us as heavens are above the earth. Today we ought to keep in mind that God’s saving grace is pure gift which cannot be bought. When God has spoken, nothing can cancel his decree, just as nothing can wipe away the effect of rain on a thirsty land.
Second reading: 1John 5:1-9
Some converts were deserting after finding it hard to accept the humanity Christ cf. 1 John 2:19. John all the same insisted that Jesus the man from Nazareth was the son of God. He came by the water to be one with the people through accepting baptism at the Jordan. He also came by blood; dying as the Lamb of God on the Cross to liberate and make us children of God. Water and blood which came from his side has a double symbolism of final obedience to God and true love for humanity. On the Cross Jesus gave everything through the pierced heart giving birth to his new body the Church. By dying on the Cross he has overcame the world. On the Cross Jesus taught us how to love. Love in not a dream but solidarity in which we are responsible for one another. It is through love that we can overcome the world.
In the vocabulary of St. John the world is humanity closed with in attempting to save itself by its own strength. In Baptism we start our journey of opening up to God and his will so that his kingdom may come. In baptism humanity relies on God for true success of life. Baptism is an open testimony that we believe. Faith is born with baptism and it is faith which makes us overcome temptations. Faith opens us to God, makes us trust our salvation and the success of our life to Jesus the Son of God who alone can grant true salvation. Faith consists in believing that Jesus the Son of God possesses eternal life especially from the time of his victory over death. This eternal life is our inheritance too, if we believe. He who does not believe in Jesus has no life. We cannot have a true passion for life unless we have it through Jesus. Jesus is the life, the way and the truth. Jesus is the tremendous dynamism of his own life and that is why he alone can satisfy all who are thirsty for true life. These three visible witnesses make our faith grow, the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the Holy Spirit and our way of life.
Gospel: Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
In this rather modest narrative of ‘Jesus’ baptism’ Luke clarifies the respective roles and identities of John and Jesus, as well as the character of baptismal initiation. John’s role was preparatory and temporary. He offered an introduction to the promise that would be fulfilled by Jesus. As God’s beloved Son and the servant with whom God was well pleased, Jesus would exercise the role of the Christ and baptize with Spirit and fire. After Jesus’ baptism, Luke narrates a revelatory experience in three stages. With the opening of the heavens Luke 3:21, Luke indirectly referenced the prayer of Isaiah, who begged God to “rend the heavens and come down” Isaiah 63:19 to intervene on behalf of a sinful people. From the opened heavens, the Holy Spirit descended and remained with Jesus throughout his ministry cf. Luke 4:18. In Acts also Luke asserts that the same Holy Spirit had come upon Jesus’ followers and would remain with them cf. Acts 2:1-11. This same Spirit continues to come upon every baptized to enlighten every word and work with grace. Then, as if to confirm the witness of the Spirit and the opened heavens, a voice identified Jesus in terms that established his royal messiah ship cf. Psalm 2:7 and his ministry as the beloved Servant of God in Isaiah 42:1.
What about the presence of the dove in this text! The dove is signaled out at the end of the flood and a new beginning for the primeval Noah and his companions in Genesis 8:8. Just as the appearance of the dove signaled to Noah that his watery journey in the ark was taking a new turn, so the dove at Jesus’ baptism indicated that his ministry was about to strike out in a new direction. After his baptism, Jesus’ ministry began in earnest and John’s came to an end cf. Luke 3:20. The dove is a sign that God is doing something new for Israel and for the world in the person and mission of Jesus.
This action is presented in a decidedly peaceful manner. It represents what baptism would mean for Jesus and what it would entail for his followers. Later on Jesus will declare, “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished.” Mark 10:39. Jesus allowed himself be immersed in the baptism of suffering and death. Through these saving actions, all who are baptized in Jesus’ name enter fully into his life and his death and pass with him through the passage of death to life everlasting.
We cannot know exactly how or why the sinless Jesus ended up at the Jordan to be baptized. But we can create a systematic profile from what we know about him and his circumstances. In general, he got there the same way all of us get anyplace: step by step, one decision at a time. And as he grew in wisdom and grace, he looked around at his world and wondered if things were to remain that way. He saw the occupying military forces and wondered if his people always be under foreign domination. He saw that a big number of his people were impoverished and wondered as if that must always be the case. Jesus Christ clearly understood that the world was not as it should be and that God himself was coming to set things straight. He knew the answer wasn’t economic; there will always be rich and poor. He knew the answer wasn’t political; there will always strong and weak. He knew it was not a matter of fixing the policies but of creating an alternative system which he called the kingdom of God as a fundamental option.
Baptism has cleansed us from original sin and shown us a clear into heaven. Keeping memory of the day when we were baptized and celebrating it as the true birth day into a new people of God bonds us with one another. Paul says: “you are no longer Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, male or female, you are all one in Christ” Galatians 3:28. I conclude with a reference to an instruction for the newly baptized at Jerusalem. You have become ‘Christs’ by receiving the sign of Holy Spirit. When you emerge from the pool of sacred waters you are anointed in a manner corresponding to Christ’s anointing. Act, look and behave as anointed people.