The Baptism of the Lord: Scripture Readings
Food For Thought
*excerpt from Take Time For Him: Remain In His Love
The Baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of His public ministry. Up to this point He had spent His life quietly as a carpenter in a small town as the son of Mary and Joseph. Now at thirty years old, He began His work as the Son of God ushering in the eternal Kingdom.
When John baptized Jesus, the Spirit of God descended upon Him as a dove and God affirmed His Sonship audibly to those present. After so many long years of suffering under the weight of sin and death, God had finally come to fulfill all His promises to save everyone from those things we cannot overcome on our own.
“He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, ‘Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.’” Luke 4: 16-20
John had been baptizing many, but his was only a sign of repentance and preparation, it did not have the power to confer the forgiveness of sins or divine grace. John himself urged that his baptism was only a precursor for the one to come who would baptize with “the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16). Jesus alone has the power to forgive our debt to God, to heal our wounded souls, and to release us from those sins that we cannot conquer on our own.
Sin that has taken its full course in a soul can be aptly compared to addiction. Persons may or may not be aware that they have a problem. Their addiction slowly takes greater and greater hold of their life, consumes their thoughts, directs their choices, and begins to undermine their relationships, their health, and their joy. Having a glass of wine with dinner will not do harm to a temperate person. However, someone with an alcohol addiction cannot limit themselves to one glass. Every human person has one or more weakness that they cannot seem to keep in balance on their own. It may be pride, vanity, lust, greed, anger, envy, laziness, or gluttony. Book stores have rows of shelves with self-help books to help you deal with any one of these addictions. Books, therapists, goals, and gritty resolve can all be helpful, and they can have a real impact in your life. But their power is limited. They could be compared to the Baptism of John – they provide awareness of the problem, contrition of heart, and desire for change, but they cannot transform us from within or release us from the power our sin has over us.
God sees us suffering and has come in an intimate way to help each of us personally. Pope Benedict XVI, in his book Jesus of Nazareth, offers moving insights into the meaning of Jesus’ baptism for you and I. In respect to Jesus’ descent into the water, taking on our sins and putting them to death on the Cross, He writes:
“Now God speaks intimately, as one man to another. Now He descends into the depth of their human sufferings.”[i]
God does not point His finger and say “I told you so.” He has compassion for our suffering which is always the consequence of sin. Jesus did not need to be baptized. He had no sin to repent. Rather, at His baptism, Jesus took on our sin. Pope Benedict XVI describes it in this way:
“Jesus loaded the burden of all mankind’s guilt upon His shoulders; He bore it down into the depths of the Jordan. He inaugurated His public activity by stepping into the place of sinners. His inaugural gesture is an anticipation of the Cross.”[ii]
The primary mission of Christ is to free us from sin. This will require dying to pay our debt, and providing the transformative grace needed to heal our minds clouded by lies and faulty reasoning, strengthen our wills which can be too weak to make the right choice, and inflame our tepid hearts with divine love. The magnanimous lives of the saints are not beyond our reach. They were the result of receptivity to the ordinary working of grace in the soul to the person open to Christ’s transformative fire within.
Through Christ, God no longer remains merely a transcendent God immune from the experience of our condition. The Son has become man, and as such taken upon Himself every suffering we experience so He may accompany each of us on our journey as an understanding and intimate ally as well to defend us and conquer in His own life every obstacle in our way.
“Jesus’ Baptism, then, is understood as a repetition of the whole of history, which both recapitulates the past and anticipates the future. His entering into the sin of others is a descent into the ‘inferno’. But He does not descend merely as the role of a spectator, as in Dante’s Inferno. Rather, He goes down in the role of one whose suffering-with-others is a transforming suffering that turns the underworld around, knocking down and flinging open the gates of the abyss. His Baptism is a descent into the house of the evil one, combat with the ‘strong man’ (cf. Lk 11:22) who holds men captive (and the truth is that we are all very much captive to powers that anonymously manipulate us!)”[iii]
God had revealed to Mary and then to Joseph that Jesus was God’s Son. Now, God reveals to all mankind that His Son has come and dwells among us, ready to free us from that which enslaves us if we will let Him. If we are smart, we will take the Father’s advice heard audibly by those present and “Listen to Him.”
[i] Pope Benedict XVI. Jesus of Nazareth, translated by Adrian Walker, New York: Doubleday, 2007)
+ Imagine Christ taking upon His shoulders your particular sins and struggles, putting them to death in the depth of the water, and emerging with you victorious.
+ Examine what drives your decisions in a negative way. What weaknesses undermine your joy and/or your relationships? Surrender them to Christ and ask for His grace to transform you.
+ Show compassion toward someone struggling with a sin that impacts you.
For some practical examples of how you can practice these in your everyday life, read the full reflection in Take Time For Him: Remain in His Love ebook or paperback
Order the new set of guided meditations for this year’s Sunday Gospels!
© 2021 Angela M Jendro