The Baptism of Jesus
Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee,A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew (3:1-17)
Blessed art thou amongst women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,The Gospel of the Lord."The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:Now John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
'Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.'"
"I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented.
And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."
Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.
It just didn't make sense.
All his life, John the Baptist had known that he had a special call. At about the age of thirty, he felt the Spirit lead him to begin, sending him down to the Jordan River to call the people of Judea to repentance, and a baptism that demonstrated that repentance. Day in and day out, he preached to the curious crowds, baptising the penitent, chastising the arrogant, and answering the critical. But all this time, as he drew hearers and made disciples, he knew that he wasn't the main attraction. He wasn't the Messiah--he was only the harbinger. He was, as he quoted from Isaiah, sent to "make straight the paths of the Lord."
And then, one day, there He was, amid the crowd! The day John had waited for had finally arrived! The Messiah had come to His people, and would now begin the work of saving them! But, He just stood there, as John preached--about Him! He stood there among the crowd, as though He was just one of them. And then, strangest of all, He stepped forward, waded out into the water, and asked John to baptise Him!
Think about it--the ritual of baptism which John practised involved the penitent's confession of their sins, publically, before being baptised. Now, here is Jesus, the Sinless Lamb of God--here to take away the sins of the world--going through a rite of forgiveness for sins He'd never committed. John the Baptist was understandably confused, but Jesus told him to "Let it be so for now, in order to fulfil all righteousness," and so, John, who was unworthy to even untie His sandals, consented to baptise Jesus instead.
What was going on?
Jesus, the Lord of the Universe who would servilely wash His disciples' feet--Jesus, the Immortal God of Heaven who would consent to be killed--seems to have a thing for turning the world on its head. And here, as the Sinless identified Himself with sinners, it is no different.
And that's precisely what Jesus was doing. He was stepping into those waters and identifying with sinners in order to take the curse of sin on Himself, so that every sinner who afterwards would step into the baptismal waters would be saved from that curse and identify himself with Christ.
And as though that is not mystery enough, there's an added dimension of the story, closely related to this--and indeed, stemming from it. In Jesus' baptism, He declares Himself to be the New and True Israel, the Servant of God prophesied in Isaiah's "Servant Songs". When the Israelites were delivered from Egypt by Moses, and led through the Wilderness, at the end of Moses' life they arrived at the same Jordan River in which John baptised. And there, Moses reiterated the Covenant which God had made with them, setting before them a choice:
"See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob" (Deut. 30:15-20).Later, after Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan (which was itself a type of Baptism), he too put the same choice before them:
"Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.Even though the people swore to follow the Lord, and even though the penalties were clearly laid before them for disobedience, still, the people were unfaithful. Having broken the Covenant, they brought upon themselves the curses of the Covenant. Despite all this, however, God's love remained constant, and, already knowing that they would disobey Him, He had long before set in motion His plan for redemption--which would come at the fullness of time. And the fullness of time began when the Word became Flesh.
Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." Then the people answered, "Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God." But Joshua said to the people, "You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good." And the people said to Joshua, "No, we will serve the Lord!" Then Joshua said to the people, "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him." And they said, "We are witnesses." He said, "Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel." The people said to Joshua, "The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey." So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem (Josh. 24:14-25).
And so, Christ came to the Jordan--the same river at which the Israelites ratified the Covenant and accepted the blessings of obedience and the curses of unfaithfulness. And in the Jordan, the sinless Son of God, the Most Faithful, recapitulated the 'baptism' of Israel in Himself, and embraced the curse of their unfaithfulness, and the unfaithfulness of all the world, in perfect submission to the will of the Father.
And as He came up out of the water, Heaven was opened again. The Holy Spirit came down upon Jesus, and the Father declared His favour for the Son.
And we, at our baptisms, though we perhaps didn't perceive it, also had the Holy Spirit descend upon us to sanctify us as the Father looked down on us who were now, through baptism, united with His Son, and declared us, also, to be His beloved children. And though, while many times we may be disobedient, let us never despair of our Father's love and forgiveness, and turn back to Him again in the grace given to us through His Son, Confessing our sins, and renewing our own baptismal promises.
Let us meditate on Jesus' baptism, recognising that the Holy Spirit Who descended there has made our own baptism efficacious for our salvation. Amen.
(Category: Catholic Devotions: The Rosary.)