SFX Bulletin, 11 January 2015 While Scripture is to be prayerfully read as sacred text and not always as literal history, bible scholars almost all agree that the baptism of Jesus which is recorded in all four gospels (Mt.3:13-17; Mk.1:9-11; Lk.3:21-23; Jn.1:29-33) is an event that actually took place – it is as true as Jesus’ crucifixion. For many of us, Jesus’ baptism never fails to make us pause and ponder. Why did Jesus, who has no sin, ask John for this rite of repentance?
Reflecting on this event, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, said, “Jesus did not need to be baptised, but the first theologians say that, with his body, with his divinity, in baptism he blessed all the waters, so that the waters would have the power to confer baptism. And then, before ascending to Heaven, Jesus told us to go into all the world to baptize. And from that day forward up until today, this has been an uninterrupted chain: they baptised their children…And today this chain continues” (Angelus, 13 January 2013).
With so many beautiful ceremonies that we attend today in schools, workplaces and other community gatherings, it is so easy to think of Baptism as simply a religious ceremony of very touching words and actions – forgetting that it is a divine reality of being made God’s children and being endowed with God’s strength and power for holiness, “In Baptism, the Heavenly Father also repeats these words for each one…’You are my child’. Baptism is adoption and admission into God’s family, into communion with the Most Holy Trinity, into communion with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. For this very reason, Baptism should be administered in the Name of the Most Holy Trinity. These words are not merely a formula; they are reality. They mark the moment when your children are reborn as children of God. From being the children of human parents, they also become the children of God in the Son of the living God” (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Angelus, 7 January 2007).
In seeking John’s baptism, Jesus, “the Son of the living God”, shows us what characterizes a child of God - humility. Jesus does not stand by the side and look on at the repentant. He does not set himself apart from their sinfulness, instead he chooses to line up with the sinner to encourage their decision to seek reconciliation with God. Jesus’ humility glorified God. When Jesus came up from the waters of the Jordan after his baptism, “the heavens opened…the Spirit of God descending like a dove…a voice spoke from heaven, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on him” (Mt. 3:17).
4th century Church Father, St. John Chrysostom said, “Would you like to see God glorified by you? Then rejoice in your brother’s progress and you will immediately give glory to God…by rejoicing in the merits of others, God will be praised” (CCC 2540).
Today is also Catechetical Sunday. Catechesis or the transmission of the faith, is not only the job of the Sunday Catechists. Parents are a child’s first catechist, “Family catechesis precedes, accompanies and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith” (CCC2226). As we share our faith experiences and prayerfully search and understand Scripture together, encouraging our parents, spouse, children and loved ones to enter deeper into the mysteries of Christ’s life, we are helping each other grow in certainty that “Jesus of Nazareth…anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power” (Ac.10:38) is truly God’s love made visible to the world. This, in fact, is our baptismal duty and calling – to grow in and share God’s love. Jesus did this perfectly by his death on the cross. May we also respond to God’s grace and bring his merciful love to others as perfectly as he is calling each one of us to do today.