THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD
Gospel: Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people, who were beginning to think that John might be the Christ, so John declared before them all, 'I baptise you with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.'
Now when all the people had been baptised and while Jesus after his own baptism was at prayer, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily shape, like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, 'You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.'
We have just listened to the story of the baptism of Jesus. In the Church’s ancient tradition this feast is always closely linked to the feast of the Epiphany, which we celebrated last week, and with the miracle at Cana where Jesus changes water into wine. In each story the central message is that the true meaning of the life and mission of Jesus is being made known/revealed. All three events are epiphanies of ‘the Christ.’
However, in many ways the story of Jesus’ the baptism is puzzling. Before Jesus presented Himself for baptism John had already spoken of Him as the one who would baptise others, and not with water but with the Holy Spirit and with fire. And as another Gospel tells us, John questioned Jesus saying that he needed baptism from Jesus rather than the other way around. Jesus replied to John that he had to accept that this was God’s plan and had to take place.
So, what is the meaning of the baptism of Jesus? Part of the explanation lies in what happens next in the story (the epiphany). As Jesus comes up out of the water the Spirit of God descends on Jesus and the voice of God the Father is heard: “You are my son, the beloved. My favour, my seal of approval, rests on you."
Jesus, a man like other men, is so closely at one with God that God calls Him his beloved Son and reveals that the presence of the Holy Spirit is always with Him. But it wasn’t for this spectacle that he was baptised. Jesus was baptised for the sake of others. His baptism was for us because it created a solidarity not between Jesus and God but between Him who is God and us human beings. He was immersed like everyone else that we share with Him the blessing of the Holy Spirit and the favour of God which He alone enjoyed. For better or worse His baptism united the fate of humanity with the plight of God.
It is a beautiful story of Jesus’ willingness to identify His life completely with that of a sinful humanity so that the benefits of His redeeming act on the Cross would ultimately be poured out upon all who are baptised into his Body, the Church. This means that when we receive baptism as adopted children of God we may take for granted the words our heavenly Father once spoke to His only begotten Son, “You are my son, the beloved. My favour rests on you."