Today, we celebrate the solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord. This Feast brings to an end the season of Christmas and it usher us into the Ordinary Time of the Church. Last week Sunday, we celebrated the feast of the Epiphany, the manifestation of the Lord to the Gentiles, as represented in the persons of the three wise men. The feast we celebrate today is also called epiphany since it commemorates the manifestation of Christ’s divinity by the voice of the Father and the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. As we reflect on the baptism of our Lord today, it is pertinent for us to connect it with our own lives, with our baptism and what it means for each one of us.
In today’s first reading, we heard the Lord speaking through Prophet Isaiah: All you who are thirsty, Come to the water (Is. 55:1). The reading evoked the end of the Apocalypse, where St. John writes: Let all who are thirsty come. All who want it may have the water of life, and have it free! (Rev.22:17). Since the beginning of the world, water has been the source of divine life and fruitfulness. The duty of the Church is to announce to the whole world that this water of salvation is available; that it flows freely for anyone who desires it.
The Gospel of John further expatiates on this water of salvation in the discussion that ensued between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well in Samaria. He said to her: whoever drinks the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life (Jn 4:14). Through the feast we celebrate today, Christ is calling us on behalf of his Father to the water that gives life. Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will refresh you! Specifically: come to the waters of Baptism! Come to faith; come to conversion; come to the riches that are true and will last forever! Come to life everlasting, given as a free gift! Come to liberation from sin! Come to a new birth in me, through the power of the Holy Spirit! Come out of darkness, and into the light! Come to adoption as children of God! Come and share in my divine Sonship! Come to eternal communion with the three Persons of the Holy Trinity! In the same vein, John in the second reading made reference to “three witnesses” (water, blood and Spirit).
What does John mean by “water and blood”, and why does he emphasize that it is not by water alone but also by blood that Jesus came? Jesus came by water through his baptism, submitting to the Father’s plan as the incarnate Son of God (cf.Jn.1:32-34); he came by blood through his crucifixion, offering himself to the Father as the sacrifice for our sins (cf.1Jn 1:7). These two events marked, respectively, the inauguration and the conclusion of his earthly ministry. Jesus was not simply anointed by God for ministry through water of baptism; he also shed his blood and died for our sins so that we might share in his divine life. Also, our faith in Jesus is based on three witnesses that agree in their testimony: the spirit, the water, and the blood. Jesus’ baptism by water signifies that he has come in the flesh for our sake; he offered his blood on the cross that we might have forgiveness of sins and new life in him; and he sent the spirit to testify about him and to give witness within us to his true identity as the Son of God.
Sharing in the gift of the Spirit, regenerated by the waters of baptism, and participating in Christ’s flesh and blood in the Eucharist, we are given God’s own threefold witness to Jesus that he is God’s Son, anointed with the Spirit, who came in the flesh and died for our salvation. In the Gospel reading, after the baptism, Christ saw a vision that “the heavens were opened and the Spirit of God descending like a dove and behold, a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” In this great epiphany on the shores of the Jordan, the three Divine Persons of the Blessed Trinity are made manifest: The Father allows his voice to be heard as He gives testimony to the Son while the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove. Prior before now, the angel, magi, and John the Baptist have all confirmed Christ’s identity and mission.
Now the heavens open, and we encounter God’s own, unmediated revelation about Jesus. The vision of Christ also consists the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him (Matt.3:16). This verse does not imply that this is Jesus’ first contact with the Holy Spirit, for the Gospel Matthew already highlighted that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matt.1:20). The Spirit coming on Jesus represents his anointing as Israel’s Messiah. Indeed, the Spirit of the Lord sometimes came powerfully on the kings of Israel at the time of their anointing. Samuel told Saul that a sign of his being the anointed King of Israel would be the Spirit coming on him (1Sam 10:6). When David was anointed King, “the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him from that day” (1Sam 16:13).
Therefore, we all should see the Spirit coming on Jesus as an anointing that formally inaugurates his messianic mission. Also, the Spirit descending like a dove recalls Noah’s dove that signalled the end of the flood and the beginning of the new world (Gen 8:8-12). It also reminds us the Spirit of God over the waters of creation in Gen 1:2, where the Hebrew text describes the Spirit of God as “hovering” or “fluttering” over the waters like a bird. With these images from Genesis in the background, Mark the Evangelist suggests that this event at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry whereby he will redeem humanity marks the beginning of a new world and new creation. Why was Jesus baptized? He is sinless and has nothing of which to repent.
He does not need to be baptized. Nevertheless, at the beginning of his public ministry Jesus dramatically demonstrates his solidarity with sinful Israel by going into the same waters that the repentant crowd have been entering. In this way Jesus shows that he has come to unite himself with sinners, and he foreshadows how he will bear the sins of humanity at the climax of his mission on the cross. The baptism by John was an important event in the life of Jesus. First, it was a moment of decision. It marked the end of Jesus’ private life, which prepared him for his public ministry. Second, it was a moment of identification with his people in their God-ward movement initiated by John the Baptist. Third, it was a moment of approval. Jesus might have been waiting approval from his heavenly Father and during his baptism Jesus got this approval of himself as the Father’s “beloved Son.”
Fourth, it was a moment of conviction. At baptism Jesus received certainties from heaven about his identity and the nature of his mission: He was the “Chosen One” and the “beloved Son of God”. And his mission of saving mankind would be fulfilled not by conquering the Romans, but by becoming the “suffering servant” of God by the cross. Fifth, it was a moment of equipment. By descending on Jesus in the form of a dove, the Holy Spirit equipped Jesus with the power of preaching the “good news.” The baptism of Jesus reminds us of our identity and mission. First, it reminds us of who we are and whose we are. By Baptism we become sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, members of his church, heirs of heaven and temples of the holy spirit. Hence “baptism” is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit and the door which gives access to the other Sacraments. Prior before the Covid-19 pandemic, most of us often dip the fingers of our right hands into the holy water font and blessed ourselves when we come to Church.
Why? This blessing is supposed to remind us of our baptism. And so when I bless myself with holy water, I should be thinking of the fact that I am a child of God; that I have been redeemed by the Cross of Christ; that I have been made a member of God’s family and that I have been washed, forgiven, cleansed and purified by the blood of the lamb. This is a day for us to remember the graces we received in baptism and to renew our baptismal vows. On the day of our baptism, as Saint Pope John Paul II explains, “We were anointed with the oil of Catechumens, the sign of Christ’s gentle strength, to fight against evil. Blessed water was pour over us, an effective sign of interior purification through the Holy Spirit. we were then anointed with Chrism to show that we were thus consecrated in the image of Jesus, the Father’s Anointed One. The Candle lighted from the paschal candle was a symbol of the light of faith which our parents and godparents must have continually safeguarded and nourished with the life-giving grace of the Spirit. This is also a day for us to renew our baptismal vows by consecrating ourselves to the Holy Trinity and “by rejecting Satan and all his empty promises,” which our profane world is constantly offering us through its mass media. Let us ask Our Lord to make us faithful to our baptismal promises.