THE FEAST OF THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD
AT BAPTISM GOD REVEALS OUR IDENTITY AND MISSION
Is 42:1-4, 6-7;
The Christmas season comes to an end with the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. Christmas is the feast of God’s self-revelation to the Jews and Epiphany celebrates God’s self-revelation to the Gentiles. At his Baptism in the Jordan, Christ reveals himself to repentant sinners. The Baptism of the Lord Jesus is the great event which the Eastern Churches celebrates on the feast of Epiphany because it was the first public revelation of all the Three Persons in the Holy Trinity and the revelation from God that Jesus is the Son of God. It is also an event described by all four Gospels, and it marks the beginning of Jesus' public ministry.
The ritual of Baptism had been practiced for centuries among the Jews as a ritual equivalent to our Confession. Until the fall of the Temple in 70 A.D., it was common for Jewish people to use a special pool called a Mikveh -- literally a "collection of water" – as a means of spiritual cleansing, to remove spiritual impurity and sin. Men took this bath weekly on the eve of the Sabbath; women, monthly. Converts were also expected to take this bath before entering Judaism. John the Baptist preached that such a bath was a necessary preparation for the cataclysm that would be wrought by the coming Messiah. Jesus transformed this continuing ritual into the one single, definitive act by which we begin our life of Faith. In effect, He attached His Divine Essence with the water and the ceremony.
Jesus’ baptism by John was the acceptance and the beginning of his mission as God’s suffering Servant. He allowed himself to be numbered among sinners. Jesus submitted himself entirely to his Father’s will. Out of love, He consented to His baptism of death for the remission of our sins. Many Fathers of the Church explain that Jesus received baptism to identify himself with his people, who, as a result of John's preaching, for the first time in Jewish history, became aware of their sins and of their need for repentance. The Jews had the traditional belief that only the Gentiles who embraced Jewish religion needed the baptism of repentance, for, as God's chosen people, the Jewish race was holy. Jesus might have been waiting for this most opportune moment to begin his public ministry.
Jesus’ baptism by John was a mystical experience that Jesus felt deep within his soul at the crucial turning point of his life. The opening of the Heavens with Holy Spirit, descending as a dove upon Jesus, and the Voice declaring of Him, "This is My beloved Son with Whom I am well pleased," are God's revelation to mankind of the Mystery that He is Triune. The presence of the Triune God at this baptism, reveals Jesus’ true identity and mission. The Heavens’ opening also indicates that this was a moment of God’s powerful intervention in human history and in the life of His Son. His baptism by John was a very important event in the life of Jesus. At this baptism, Jesus received assurances) from Heaven about His identity, a) He was the "Chosen One" and the "beloved Son of God"; and the nature of His mission: b) his mission of saving mankind would be fulfilled, not by conquering the Romans, but by becoming the "suffering servant" of God, i.e., by the cross. When the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove (symbol of gentleness), the Holy Spirit equipped Jesus with the power of preaching the "Good News" (that God is a loving Father, Who wants to save all human beings from their sins through His Son Jesus), in contrast to the "axe" and "fire" preaching of John the Baptist about an angry God's judgment on sinners.
The baptism of Jesus reminds us of our identity and mission. We become incorporated into the Church, the Body of Christ, and made sharers in the priesthood of Christ [CCC 1279]. Jesus’ baptism reminds us of our mission. First of all to lead a holy and transparent Christian life by building a Kingdom of compassion, justice and love, and to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
Fr. Pascal OFM