Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
Psalm 104: 1-4, 24-25, 27-30
Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7
Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
As we gather to celebrate this weekend the Baptism of the Lord, the question should naturally arise in our hearts why the Lord Jesus, Himself fully God and perfectly sinless, should receive baptism. Furthermore, how is it that the Divine Son, who always was in perfect union with the Father and Spirit, received the Holy Spirit at His Baptism? To be honest, there are a number of reasons, of which the following are a few.
I was interested to find in one source that Christ received baptism to fulfill the Jewish Law that a man, to be recognized as a priest, must go through a ceremonial washing and anointing with oil. This first part, with the latter anointing, would show to the Jewish people that legally He had fulfilled the requirements to be considered a priest. He didn’t need to fulfill these requirements, but for their sake He did so. And so we see that one reason was to manifest His priesthood to the people of Israel, that priesthood which offered Himself as the sacrifice to win for us eternal life.
Continuing on, we read in the scriptures that the baptism of John was a baptism of repentance and conversion. It seems odd that Our Lord would receive it since, as I noted to begin with, He was completely free from sin and needed no repentance. But if we look at the final goal of John’s baptism it makes a bit more sense. The repentance and conversion toward God that happened in the washing meant that one was now given a mission to remain in God’s grace and to begin something anew. This we can certainly see in the effects of the baptism Christ receives. It is in receiving His baptism that the Lord begins His formal mission of salvation by teaching, healing and enduring His Passion. So we see, took, that this baptism began something new in the life of Christ.
Another reason is simply that it provides for us an example. Essentially Christ shows us that if He who had no need of baptism humbled Himself to receive it, then we who are in need of it must do the same in imitation of Him.
More important for us is the reality that in receiving baptism, Christ prepares the way for us to follow. It has been said that when we receive the Eucharist, it is not we who change the Eucharist but rather the Eucharist which changes us. The same can be said analogously of Christ at His baptism – when He was immersed in the waters, it was not the soul of Christ was that changed by the water but rather the water was purified by the soul of Christ. The water was purified by Christ that in receiving it, we ourselves might be purified. Furthermore, because He has taken on our very flesh and assumed our human condition, we are in a sense all taken up into His action of baptism. St. Paul tells us that through the disobedience of one man (Adam) all merited death and that by the obedience of one man (Christ) all are invited to receive eternal life. In baptism, Christ the Head receives the washing with water that we the body of Christ might follow and receive it as well. Likewise, Christ receives the Spirit in His humanity that we, as members in His Body, might also be able to receive the Spirit. It was not for Himself that He received baptism so much as it was for us.
And then we come to that final point, when the heavens were opened up and the Spirit came down in bodily form. This shows us that the baptism we receive is a heavenly one, not an earthly one. Also, in that moment, the Father reveals to us the Son and the Spirit and we are invited to enter into that relationship with the Blessed Trinity here on earth that will merit our living it eternally in Heaven, which has been opened up for us. On this last point, when Jesus hears the Father, I want to reflect a bit more.
Think for a moment of the consolation that must have been in the heart of the Lord Jesus in that very moment. Remember, while the Divine Son, He was also a man in the flesh who had emotions and thoughts of His own. It wasn’t a revelation or adoption of Christ as the Son; He knew He was the Son of the Father even at age twelve when Mary and Joseph find Him in the Temple and He says to them that He must be in His Father’s house. He knew who He was, but to hear it out loud and in front of a crowd so as to truly enter into the mission must have been a true gift for the Lord to hear.
Changing gears a bit, this coming week is national Vocations Awareness Week, a week in which we are called to pray for more vocations, talk about vocations, and encourage others to consider a vocation.
When I first decided to enter seminary, I made the decision and then said not one word of it to anyone for a couple of weeks. The happiness I experienced in that time was immense, as I had finally figured out why God created me and what part of my mission was to be. After that first couple of weeks, my mom and I were cleaning up after a family gathering and it was just the two of us in the house. She was cleaning the last of the plates and asked if she could tell me something in confidence. I said yes and we spoke about something going on in the family at the time. Then I paused and asked if I could tell her something. She said yes and I said, “I think I want to go to the seminary to be a priest.” She paused, turned to me, turned back around and said, “That works.” I didn’t exactly know what ‘That works’ meant so I asked and she said that she thought I would make a good priest. In that moment I was full of joy to be able to share what was in my heart and hear someone confirm it. But at the same time I wondered a bit how things might have turned out differently if my mom or someone else had encouraged me to discern a vocation when I was younger.
The reality is that in our own community we have people who are discerning a vocation to priesthood, religious life, and consecrated life. I have spoken with some of them and I’m sure you know them as well. Others are quietly thinking about it, without us being aware. Still others have the seed of a vocation in their heart but haven’t realized it yet. For all of these people – children, young adults, and adults as well – we must be sources of encouragement not only in prayer but also in word. If we see someone who might make a good priest, religious sister or brother, deacon, or consecrated virgin, tell them. That might be the confirmation they’ve been waiting for or the invitation they need to take the next step in discerning a vocation. You never know how a simple question or invitation can affect someone. And, yes, it can be a bit scary sometimes. As one approaching someone it can be scary because you don’t know how they’ll take it. And as one being approached by someone about the possibility of having a vocation, it can be equally scary because of the reality that you might actually have one. Remain open to God’s Will and to seek the Spirit’s guidance. Fear may well come, but as Our Lord Jesus spoke to His disciples and many have said since then, “Be not afraid.”