Baptism is a most decisive moment of our Christian life. This is the day we choose if we were adults or our parents and or guardians chose on our behalf if we were infants, to become followers of Jesus and members of his Church. There are some key elements to baptism in the Catholic Church that some of us may not even know or understand. For instance, baptism leaves us with an indelible (permanent) mark of Christianity. Once baptised a Catholic, one remains a Catholic even if they choose otherwise in life. Baptism cannot be reversed. Baptism frees us from original sin and so it was as it is now, penitential in nature; thus absolving us of our sins by water and the Holy Spirit. It is by baptism we are born again and so made sons and daughters of God in the family we call the church. It is due to these elements and certainly more that Jesus’ baptism in the river Jordan by John the Baptist commands reflection on our part.
The first question that comes to mind is: Why did Jesus need baptism from John the Baptist? He is God for heaven’s sake! Like he chose to be born of a virgin mother into a human family, Jesus endeavors to identify himself with sinful men and women so that he may later save them by his paschal mystery; that is, by his suffering, death on the cross and resurrection. It is in coming to John the Baptist for baptism that Jesus offers a concrete example of humility for his own disciples and those of John the Baptist. If he who did not require baptism can approach it, it would have been more urgent for those who were being invited by John the Baptist to embrace it and the new life it offered. But why John the Baptist? Our Lord’s cousin was the last of the Old Testament prophets and the one to usher in the New Testament or rather the new era of the proclamation and establishment of the kingdom of God by Jesus. It is John the Baptist who points his disciples and us of course, to the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.
At Jesus’ baptism, God’s silence is broken as he tears the heavens open for a new lasting relationship with the earth. “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased”. No one had pleased God the Father until Jesus Christ. For the first time, God reveals his face to the human race who are created in his image. Whilst humanity had been overly rebellious to God and his prophets of the Old Testament, God intervenes with gentleness represented by the Spirit that descends on Jesus in the form of a dove. We only have to remember that after the flood in Noah’s time, a dove carrying an olive branch signaled an end to time of havoc and announced a new peaceful era. At creation, the spirit hovered over the face of the earth bringing form and creation to life by the spoken Word of God. This Word which took flesh in the person of Jesus is about to start His work of recreation and making whole what our sins have since broken.
In the gospel of St. John, Nathaniel asks: Can anything good come from Nazareth? It is providential that Mark clearly tells us that Jesus came from Nazareth to be baptised by John the Baptist in the river Jordan. It is clear that God uses the unexpected and sometimes unfamiliar to accomplish his saving mission. That could be you and me. All we have to do is to be docile to his spirit and open to his Word. A humble man from Nazareth would not be the expectation of the people of Israel about their messiah. In light of this act of God, we ought to be sorry for times we have judged people based on their postcodes or origins.
Our Lord’s baptism inaugurates his public ministry. In this ministry, he will reveal his father’s (our father too) glory to his disciples as he preaches his kingdom, heals the sick and provide a voice for the voiceless in the society; the widow, orphans, poor, crippled and all those living on the margins of life and society. This as we know will put him at odds with the leaders of Israel who will subject him to a cruel death on a cross between two thieves. In all this, no one will clearly acknowledge him other than the gentile centurion in the crowd as they watch him die on the cross. As Christians, we ought to know that our baptism was and is an invitation to share in the sufferings of Jesus and so claim a place in his glorious resurrection. Such sharing in our Lord’s suffering is possible if we can acknowledge like the centurion: Truly, this man was (is) the Son of God! (Mark 15:39). We ourselves know that he is truly the Son of God because he loves us with everything; we ought to love him with our ‘everything’ – our lives, health, wealth, time, talent and faith. May our own baptism be a source of strength in our resolve to follow Jesus daily and so love him in our brothers and sisters like he loves us.
Fr Cyprian Shikokoti, Parish Priest