Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Baptism of Our Lord

The feast of the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated January 11th this year. The baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan by John the Baptist was a real event. But it was not just an event that happened more than 2000 years ago. No, the baptism of our Lord is an event that is renewed everyday in the lives of every baptized person. It is in a sense our feast too and appropriately do we celebrate it. Saint Paul says that Jesus is the first-fruit of many brothers. It is in this context that we should approach the events of his life as narrated by the Gospel writers.

The Scriptures are not historical books although some events found in them can be historically proven. Scriptures, and in particular the Gospels, were written “so that you may believe” as St. John the Apostle would say at the end of his Gospel.
Isaiah the prophet introduces the Messianic profile. The coming of the Anointed One is characterized by much hope and life for the people of Israel. He brings with him liberation from all types of captivities- bondage of sin, physical illnesses, from darkness of hopelessness and lack of faith. He brings joy as a result of this deliverance. He brings dignity and justice to the oppressed. The victory he will wrought will be accomplished with gentleness. He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick. He will not force himself into the hearts and lives of people. But he will win them for God in the spirit of sacrifice, forgiveness and love. No shouting, no marching in the streets. But an overflowing flow of compassion and an intent of purpose manifested in works of mercy and self-sacrifice. This is the messiahship that Jesus fulfilled.

This is the same calling given to us by the virtue of our being baptized in his life, death and resurrection. This is our inheritance. We are God’s servants, his chosen ones, dwelling places of the Spirit. We are made pleasing to him by the merits of Jesus on the Cross. We are called to render acts of justice to our neighbors, giving them their dues as children of the same Father. We are grasped by his hands and sustained always by his love. We are called to be witnesses to the Good News. Our lives are not our own, we belong by right to God. We were made by him and we were ransomed by him. We are sustained by him and we go back to him when our lives are over here on earth.

Jesus’ baptism was an act of entering fully into the fullness of our humanity. A humanity tarnished by sin and in need of redemption. To be fully one with us, he humbled himself by identifying with our sinful nature. He made himself inferior to John , whose own unworthiness before the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, John himself acknowledged. But so as to fulfill the plan of God, it was made so. “Let is be so for now,” Jesus would remind John.
Docility, meekness, submission- all necessary elements to accomplish the Will of God. Jesus’ baptism brought his humility, our baptism on the other hand, brought us dignity. We are no longer sheep without a shepherd, no, we were made into children of God. What marvelous exchange! All because he loves us. Saint Peter explains this when he says that this is because God shows no partiality. He gives himself freely to those who would accept him and open themselves to the gifts God brings. But the gifts bring with them responsibilities. “To one who is given much, much will be required.” Christ faced the demands of his baptism even when they landed him on the Cross. We cannot choose otherwise if we are to be his true followers.

The Gospel passage also clearly tells us that John baptized with water and Jesus, with the Spirit. It is the same in our own lives. All the good works we do, all the good intentions we have, are dead, if they do not proceed from the motives of faith ,love of God and love of neighbor for the sake of God. The Spirit himself gives life. The Spirit himself brings to flower what we have sown. We are only his gardeners. The Spirit reveals himself in ordinary ways but we must have the eyes of faith and the ears to hear the manifestations of the Spirit.
In the midst of sufferings in the world, in the midst of darkness and trials of life, in the midst of burden and hopelessness, we remember these words of our Father: “You are my beloved son (or daughter).” These will bring us comfort, hope and assurance that we are never alone or forgotten. No matter how gray our hairs turn out to be, how wrinkled and old we become, how frail and sick, we remain always a child before the Father who loves us first and always.

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