January 12, 2020
THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD
Dear friends in Christ, today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord to end the season of Christmas. Today’s feast recalls that, at the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus received baptism at the hands of John in the Jordan River.
First reading (Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7) The prophet without mentioning a particular name prophesies about a servant of the Lord, who is beloved or chosen and to whom God has given his spirit to be able to bring about his justice among the nations. “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations.” The Church attributes this passage as pointing to Jesus. His baptism in the Jordan is recorded by the evangelists to have three major elements, the opening of the heavens, the descent of the Spirit upon him and the voice from heaven that called him the chosen one.
Second reading (Acts 10:34-38)
This passage is taken from the account of what transpired in the house of Cornelius, a Roman Centurion and convert. The story of Cornelius’ reception of baptism and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon his household is bound to the vision of Peter in Joppa. In that vision, God had revealed to the Apostle not to call ‘unclean’ what God had made clean. Peter’s visit to the house of Cornelius was accompanied by the descent of the Holy Spirit on those who were listening to him, as a sign of God’s approval of the Gentiles reception into the faith. That was what prompted Peter to make this speech, “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
Gospel (Matthew 3: 13-17)
Matthew reveals to us that there is a difference between the baptism of John and that of Jesus. The Baptism of John was meant primarily for repentance. It was to mark a break from the life of the past and to prepare for the appearance of the Messiah. The baptism of John therefore was meant for those who were not ashamed to renounce their sin and to begin to live a new life. That in fact may explain why many of the Pharisees and the Sadducees refused to participate in it since, they considered themselves just and without sin [Mt 11:27ff]. This perhaps is also responsible for John’s initial refusal when Jesus approached him for Baptism. But for Jesus, he did not pass through the rite of Baptism because he wanted to renounce his sin, but to ‘fulfil all that righteousness demand’.
According to Benedict XVI, “The whole of righteousness must be fulfilled. In Jesus’ world, righteousness is man’s answer to the Torah, acceptance of the whole of God’s will… There is no provision for John’s baptism in the Torah, but this reply of Jesus is his way of acknowledging it, as an expression of an unrestricted Yes to God’s will, as an obedient acceptance of his yoke….In a world marked by sin then, this Yes to the entire will of God also expresses solidarity with men, who have incurred guilt but yearn for righteousness.”(Jesus of Nazareth p.17)
At the baptism of Jesus, we were told that three important things happened: The “heavens opened”; the Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove; and a voice was heard from heaven, “this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased“
My dear friends, today’s celebration of the baptism of the Lord, calls us to reflect again on our own baptism. For us, baptism takes a new meaning. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water and in the word.”(CCC 1213) It is this sacrament that makes one a Christian and not the attendance at church activities. This celebration invites us to re-examine how well we have lived our sacramental life in Christ.
As you go about your activities this week, reflect again on this great gift of baptism and ask yourself if you have lived up to the Lord’s expectation of you. Have you lived out your baptismal commitments? What more do you need to do to show that you are a Christian not just by word or the name you bear? Live right with God and with your fellow men and women.
Let us pray: Lord, renew the grace of baptism in us and help us to overcome satan and all his works. Amen. May the Almighty God bless you, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.