Today we read about Jesus’ baptism, which was the start of His ministry on earth. Since baptism represents the washing away of sins, and Jesus was sinless, why did He need to be baptized? It was because His baptism fulfilled God’s saving activity as foretold in the Old Testament and culminating in His death on the cross. In other words, Jesus came to bring salvation to everyone. Jesus was willing to set a good example by doing God’s will, and it was God’s will that everyone who believed in Him be baptized.
John the Baptist’s baptism emphasized repentance or turning away from our sins. Baptism represents the turning away from the old to the new, from our old ways of life to the kingdom of God. The baptism of Jesus (along with the descent of the Spirit, the proclamation of God and the witness of John) was a sign to both the people of his day and to us of something extraordinary. It was a sign that God wanted to become one with us and yet be different from us at the same time. Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension gave baptism an entirely new meaning. Jesus’ baptism was a complete indication of his identification with the kingdom He was announcing.
Jesus’ baptism shows the glory of God’s plan and how all the details are important to God. Jesus heard the Holy Spirit call Him to speak the truth and live with grace. Christ came to identify with sinners and give them His righteousness. His baptism was a part of that righteousness, and it was also a key part of Matthew’s plan to show his Jewish audience that Jesus is “God with us”. Jesus entered the same waters that His Jewish brothers and sisters entered, and by doing so they trusted that the God of Israel was still with them and could deliver them from the forces of evil. Jesus had to join with them to show them how far God would go to be a part of their lives so they could be a part of God’s life.
Jesus shows us the same thing. He shows us how far God will go to be a part of our lives so that we can be a part of God’s life. When He insisted that John should baptize Him, Jesus wanted to melt into the crowd of the marginalized and rejects of society. By being with them, Jesus would raise them up, meet them in their despair, give them hope, be with them in their pain, comfort and cure them, accept them in their shame and bring forgiveness to them. Since Jesus also wants us to have right relationships with all people He went out and preached, healed and reached out to those who asked for forgiveness, who needed healing and who wanted to hear God’s Word.
Jesus was baptized so He could be one with us. Are we bold enough to be one with Him? Can we, like Jesus, go into the dark lives of people to open their eyes and free them from sin? This can be hard to do if we are not washed of our cowardice, of our weakness, of our sins, but when we are washed in the waters of baptism, and confirmed in the Faith of the Apostles, as preached and lived by the Church, Jesus gives us the strength we need.
Jesus’ baptism was for everyone, including the Gentiles. The Book of Acts (Acts 10:34-43) marks the acceptance of the Gentiles into the Christian community. The Gentiles did not have to show any prior observances. God is for everyone. He has no barriers to His love, and we must not put up any barriers to anyone who wants to come to God in faith.
John the Baptist did not want to baptize Jesus because John was faced with the real authority of the Son of God. John did not know what to do. John had to be faithful to his calling, preaching and baptizing, in repentance so that Jesus could be faithful in His calling. We too must be faithful to the calling to which we have been called: Feeding the hungry, caring for the sick and the imprisoned, singing in the choir, visiting the elderly in nursing homes, printing bulletins, cleaning the church, or some other task. God’s way is through humble service to others, and Jesus is the best example of humble service. We have a choice: follow the wide gate to an earthly life that will lead to death and destruction or follow the narrow gate to eternal life. By submitting to baptism, Jesus showed that God cares about us. Jesus came to a place where He did not belong so that we could go to a place where we could not otherwise go.
Jesus’ submission to baptism was no simple act of personal piety. Jesus saw John’s baptism and fiery preaching as a declaration that there would be a new world order where God will set right what the evil world did wrong. By submitting to John’s baptism, Jesus declared that He was ready for this new world order, a new world order He starts with His ministry.
We as Christians are called to live out our baptism actively, consistently, and faithfully. We cannot afford to make ourselves comfortable or do only what will be appreciated, or simply be satisfied with the way things are. We must struggle with what is right and what is wrong, what is important and what is not important. We must fight the good fight that we may inherit the riches of the heavenly Kingdom. Baptism changes us. It is a celebration of grace and an enactment of the Word of God.
As I mentioned earlier, Jesus’ baptism was the start of His earthly ministry. He had to have a clear sense of God’s support and identity before He could begin His mission. Our mission is the same as His mission, and before we can start our mission, we need to have the support and identity that only our faith in Jesus can provide. That identity is as a child of God.
Baptism calls us to service. God had a purpose for Jesus, and He has a purpose for each and every one of us. This purpose will be made clear to us at a time and place of God’s choosing. We cannot change God’s timetable. He does things in His own time and in His own way. He gives us a vision. He reveals to us why we do what we do. He gives us a purpose even in our pain. If we are faithful, great things will happen. They might happen immediately, or they might not happen for two or three generations. They might happen in our lifetime, or they might happen after we die, but if we are faithful to God’s calling, great things will definitely happen.
Doing what God requires is difficult. For some, it means becoming more humble, because they have gotten too proud. For others, it means becoming more forceful, because they are too meek. For others, it means going out and helping the needy. We must also remember that what we think is the right thing to do may not be what God considers to be right. For example, Joseph thought he was doing the right thing when he planned to divorce Mary after she became pregnant, but it was not what God wanted.
Today, as we contemplate the mystery of Christ's baptism, there are a number of things that I would like you to think about when you get home.
In today's culture, many people, even those who are baptized Christians, have great difficulty with their own identity. Many people wonder what their purpose is in this life. People find little or no meaning as they carry out their daily activities. A cloud of laziness hangs over many people as they also strive to find direction for their lives. This Sunday's liturgy shows us that Jesus gives us meaning, purpose, and direction. It is through the Sacrament of Baptism that we become His disciples. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and it is precisely in Jesus that our human existence finds fulfillment.
Moreover, the consideration of Jesus' baptism, gives us an opportunity to remember our own baptism. If you do not know the date of your own baptism, it is a good idea to go through your personal files and find out when it occurred. Many people are celebrating the anniversary of their baptism with a special celebration like that of a birthday. After all, baptism is the day that we are reborn. We become children of God, active members of the Church, and temples of the Holy Spirit. Original sin is washed away; we receive sanctifying grace and the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. The reality of baptism certainly gives us great cause to celebrate.
Finally, as we contemplate the baptism of the Lord, we are reminded of our apostolic mission as disciples of Jesus Christ. Jesus commissions the Church to go forth and baptize all nations. It is erroneous to deny that baptism is essential for salvation. The large numbers of people who have not been baptized should inspire us to always seek the salvation of souls. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove at Jesus' baptism underscores the apostolic dimension of baptism, precisely because it is the Holy Spirit who appears as tongues of fire at the moment when the Church begins its mission to baptize all nations.
We must listen for our calling. We must not be afraid if God calls us to do something great. We must not be ashamed if God calls us to do something small. We must be faithful and prepare ourselves to see the heavens open and hear God’s voice saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”