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Monday, January 13, 2014

The Baptism of the Lord

The Baptism of the Lord
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This Sunday was the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, and liturgically ended the Christmas season.  There is much to be contemplated upon during this feast.  The first is, in looking at the baptism of Jesus, what does it reveal about our own baptism?  The second is the question, Why was Jesus baptized at all?

When we examine the baptism of the Lord, as presented in Matthew Ch. 3, verses 13-17, which we heard at Mass yesterday, we see some telling similarities to our own baptism.  The most obvious, of course, is that it is a water baptism.  When Jesus is baptized, the Spirit comes down in the form of a dove, and the Father’s Voice is heard to say, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  (This is also a beautiful early hint at God’s revelation of the Trinity.)

When we are baptized, we receive the Holy Spirit; we become, in fact, temples of the Holy Spirit.  He lives in our souls and brings with Him the gifts that will be strengthened at our Confirmation.  We also become children of God, with souls perfectly pure, containing no stain of original or actual sin.  God at that time could say of us, “This is my beloved son (or daughter), in whom I am well pleased.”

A question that my students sometimes ask is, “Why did Jesus need to be baptized?  John was baptizing people for the repentance of their sins, and Jesus had no sin.  John was telling them to prepare for the Kingdom of God; Jesus was bringing the Kingdom of God.”

John himself, in verse 14, gives voice to this very objection.  I have found two answers to it in the writings of the Fathers of the Church.  The first is that Jesus was not purified by the water, but He purified the water for us.  By His baptism, Jesus sanctified the waters of baptism.  Remember that John’s baptism was not the Sacrament of Baptism.  Jesus would leave that to His Church Himself.

The second is contained to Jesus’s response to John’s objection, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  John’s baptism was of God.  People would certainly be interested to see whether Jesus would endorse it.  Not to mention that Jesus was the leader of His disciples, and He has left us the perfect example of how to live.  It may not have been necessary for Jesus to be baptized, but it is necessary for us.  He was setting the example for us to follow. 

Imagine the humility of God on display in the act of being baptized.  John was baptizing sinners.  Who was coming to him?  Prostitutes and tax collectors…and the Son of God.  He got into those same waters and underwent the same baptism as we who are sinners.  There is no depth to the humility of God when it comes to love of us.


Note:  As always, when I reflect on Scripture, I am forced to remember my own limitations of knowledge and wisdom.  I ask for emails from anyone who has something to add.