Let us be clear, from the start, about Baptism. The ceremony per se does not make one a Christian, or a Catholic. Baptism is the sacrament that ushers us into the family of God. But the bond of life and love with Him must be nurtured every day. Thus, Baptism is an ongoing process of growing in the life and love of God, of being gifted with comforting insights, and of receiving epiphanies, i.e. manifestations of God’s glory and of our glory in Him.
Jesus did not need any baptism with water: he is forever sinless. Jesus did not need to have the Spirit hover over him as a dove. As God he possesses the Spirit from all eternity. Jesus did not have to please the Father, because as Son he is forever pleasing the Father in total obedience. These three simple statements give us an indication that, today, there will be new insights and new epiphanies about Baptism.
We see how Jesus lines up to receive baptism, much to John’s surprise; much to our surprise, too. Luke offers us the explanation that lifts us up to a new level of reality: what does not make sense at our human level is decreed by God from above: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The Baptism of Jesus makes sense because the Father has so decreed.
And the Letter to the Hebrews (2:11-12) gives us the fuller meaning of God’s decree to have Jesus baptized: “He who consecrates and those who are consecrated have one and the same Father. Therefore Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers/sisters.” He is the one who consecrates; we, his brothers/sisters are those consecrated by his Spirit. But it is more than simple solidarity. That of itself would have been great and praiseworthy. No, Jesus lines up to be baptized by John because, he shall bring forth justice to the nations in a gentle and mercy-filled way (not crying out, not shouting…) Our frailty and miseries do not sever the bond that unites us to him forever.
This is what we have learned: The Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us.
The bond is not temporary, just for awhile, but forever. God and we share the same divine nature forever, because Jesus was made flesh. This is the ultimate insight, the ultimate epiphany of our God: out of love, God got His hands dirty when he formed us from the soil (clay) and breathed his spirit in us.
From the first moment He was taking shape in the womb of Mary, in Jesus, our God was given (by her blood) all he needed one day to see, to hear of, and to touch our miseries. And after his glorification, our risen Lord and God carries forever the nail marks, the gash on his chest, the furrows of the flogging, as a perennial reminder of our pain.
Jesus lines up to be baptized by John because for our sake He made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Out of love Jesus became the only thing that God hates, so that he may feel upon his shoulders all the weight and devastation of sin’s insanity, all the numbness of our countless defeats, all the harshness of our daily struggles.
What happens along the banks of the Jordan River is therefore our baptism, too; our ongoing battle to defeat sin so as to put on our flesh the very glory of our Lord. Jesus is we, is everyone of us, and with each one of us he, although sinless, walks, vicariously, through the grinding process of sin and death and then to victory and to the resurrection. This complete share in our condition opens before our eyes the strategy for defeating sin. And that strategy starts with a bold and courageous admission of our individual and collective sinfulness.
Sin and any other evil must first be faced and fought inside one’s heart. We ought to own up to sin inside ourselves and in our milieu. It is fruitless to be displeased with others, to blame others, to judge, to condemn. Such attitude would just perpetuate a most harmful delusion.
Today, on the day of Jesus’ baptism, instead of crying out: “What a shame, morals in our country have gone down the drain. We should rather implore: “Lord, walk me out of the mess of my heart. Lord, make us realize our collective culpability.”
The old film Molokai illustrates the significance of Jesus’ Baptism. Fr. Damien had mustered enough courage to settle on the hellish island of Molokai where lepers were forced to live the rest of their days irreversibly cut off from society. That was solidarity, like Jesus’ solidarity in his Incarnation. Fr. Damien’s solidarity went on for several years. But, then, one Sunday morning, he climbed the pulpit glowing with a supernatural serenity and announced: “This morning I found out that I have contracted leprosy. Now I am truly one of you.”
Similarly, Jesus says to us this morning: “Now I am truly one of you, I am you and you are I.”
Consider: The Spirit is hovering over both Jesus and all of us; and He will comfort both Jesus and us all. Consider: The voice of the Father we hear is telling us that we are his beloved daughter, his beloved son. He is well pleased with us because we are trying our best to be free, to be responsible, reliable, trustworthy, faithful, forgiving, filled with hope and courage. Consider: The flesh Jesus has taken on is real just like ours. He feels what we feel; He hopes what we hope; He dreams what we dream; He wants to enjoy life as much as we do. And he will never be ashamed to call us his sister, his brother. If we listen carefully, then, we can hear him telling us: “I want to share in all your joys and sorrows. I want to chat with you as often as you feel like. I want you to live every waking moment close to me until your mind will be at peace and your heart will brim over with confidence and hope.”