Baptism of the Lord: We are The Beloved Children of the Father!
Readings: (1st: Ish 42, 1-4.6-7; Ps: 28, 1-4.9-10; 2nd: Acts10, 34-38; Gos: Mtt 3, 13-17)
This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans), Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details and comments contact him on: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
Today is the celebration of the Lord’s Baptism and equally marks the end of Christmas season, Year A. The Lord’s Baptism is providentially situated at the beginning of the year in order to remind us of our own baptism and God’s gratuitous call of us to belong to his fold and flock. It is situated thus as a way of re-awakening in us at the beginning of a new year, of who we are, and ought to be. It is a reminder that we share in the Great and One Baptism of Jesus Christ who “was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man” like us.
Baptism cleans and releases us from the bondage of Original Sin, and makes us children of God. It configures us as adopted children of God and confirms that we are members of God’s Great house hold with its embassy on earth and its administrative head quarters in heaven where the Trinitarian God reigns supreme. On this day therefore, of utmost importance is the need for us to reflect on how far we have kept our baptismal vows. How faithful have we been to God in terms of keeping these promises. Are we still saying “I DO” to questions like: “Do you reject Satan? Do you reject sin, so as to live in the freedom of God’s children? Do you reject the glamour of evil, and refuse to be mastered by sin? If our answer is on the contrary, it is time to retrace our ways and come back home to God to whom ab initio we made these vows and so betrothed ourselves. Today, God the Father says of the son: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” while God the Spirit in the form of a dove bears testimony of the sonship of Jesus Christ. What testimony does God bear of me and, can God testify that I am truly His child who does his will and keeps his promises?
Our first reading from the book of Isaiah is a prophesy about the Messiah who was to come, which was of course fulfilled in the gospel of today during Jesus’ baptism. The Spirit of God rests on Jesus and also bears testimony that he is the son of God. In this reading, as in the gospel, we see the Trinitarian God united in action. God the Father spoke thus: “Here is my servant/this is my beloved son; whom I uphold/in whom I am well pleased.” God the Spirit bore the testimony by resting upon the son as a dove. They worked together in order to initiate the redemption of humanity through the water of baptism. Through today’s celebration, Jesus Christ brings not only redeemed men and women, but also the unredeemed creation to the steps of Calvary and has opened the way. This is why in our second reading from Acts 10, 34-38, God extended His grace of redemption to Cornelius the gentile and his entire household as he did to us through the same water of baptism. Peter himself surprised at the all-encompassing love and mercy of God testifies thus: “The truth I have now come to realize is that God has no favorites, but any one of any nationality who fears God is acceptable to him.” In other words, the water of baptism sanctified by Jesus does not segregate.
A certain priest was good to a group of students. So they decided to come around in order to show their appreciation and express their profound gratitude. After expressing their joys over what he has done for them, the students punctuated their speech with: “God bless you Father!” At this, the Priest objected and responded: “Oh no! You are not the one to say ‘God bless you’ or to bless me, I am the one ordained to bless you people.” So the students asked him: “So then Father, what shall we say to you for your kindness to us?” Then the priest said to them: “Simply say thank you Father!” Where the students wrong? I do not think so, because as baptized Christians they too can bless people. However, as a matter of the order things should follow, the priest himself was also not wrong. This is similar to the scene we find in our gospel today. Although Jesus was greater than John the Baptist and in actuality was supposed to administer the sacrament on John, He allowed and insisted it to be the other way round. This is an extreme act of humility which we ourselves must emulates and make effort to live out. The most important lesson here is that Jesus tried to underscore the importance of baptism to the redemption of humanity and the life of a Christian. It is not a mere sign. Rather, it is a sacrament which leaves an indelible mark on the receiver. Once we receive this mark, we must not allow it to be covered by the “dust of life.” We must make enough effort to leave it as visible as possible, so that God could see it always and testify of us: “This is my beloved son (or daughter), in whom I am well pleased!”
One question that often lingers is this, was it actually necessary for Christ to be baptized since he said to John the Baptist: “Leave it like this for now; it is fitting that we should, in this way to fulfill all that righteousness demand.” Why did Jesus subject himself to this process? First and foremost, Jesus proves to us that though being God he was fully and equally man. In order words, he shows us to what extent he fully identifies with us. Through this, he manifested his full humanity through the water of baptism. Ordinarily, baptism was not necessary for Jesus because “he was like us in all things except sin” (Heb 4, 15). He was not tainted in any way by Original Sin due to the fall of Adam and Eve. However, as true human that he is, his baptism as he rightly insisted was in order “to fulfill all that righteousness demand,” and remarkably, as a sign of solidarity with us whom he came down from heaven to redeem. It is a sign that he himself was ready to go through any ordeal in order to guarantee our salvation, the greatest reason for his incarnation. That which He was to seal with his blood latter on, he initiated through the water of baptism today. Hence, he begins and initiates the process of saving humanity by himself dying and rising with us in the water of baptism. By this act, Jesus proved right the song which says: “You came from heaven to earth to show the way…” He is the pacesetter in whose foot step every true believer must follow. He not only came to show the way, he proved to be the “Via, Veritas, et Vita (The Way, the Truth and the Life)” himself (John 14, 6).
Also, through his baptism, Jesus assures us that redemption is only through him in whose name we ourselves are baptized: “There is no other name by which man can be saved except through that name Jesus Christ (Act 4, 12). Having gone through the waters of baptism, he has sanctified it and so paved the way for us to step into it. In this way therefore, Christ differs from other Old Testament Priests and Prophets. He is: “One who has no need to do as those other priests did…what he has done, he has done once and for all; and the offering was himself” (Heb 7, 27). This offering of himself for our redemption begins with his baptism, with which he opened the way for us to be first cleansed of Original Sin. This is the gateway to our salvation and a significant one indeed! After all, how Original sin could be forgiven without Jesus’ abiding forgiveness through the water of baptism? Therefore, my dear friend, today the church calls us to renew our baptismal vows to God. This is very important because unless God sees a difference in the places we frequent, in our activities, in the pleasures in which we indulge, in the language we use, in our fashion, in our work, in our relationship with others and with him, in our attitude towards creation, etcetera, He can not testify about us: “this is my beloved son/daughter in whom I am well pleased” Finally, in the words of Archbishop Fulton Sheen: Separated from the world, separated unto God – these are the negative and positive sides, and signs of our own baptism and Christianity.”
Peace be with you!