The Baptism of the Lord. Sunday 10 January 2021
|(The Baptism of Christ, by Piero della Francesca c. 1450-60)|
I. We are guided by our ancestors
Most of the cultures or traditions have definite ways of educating their people. For example, in ancient India, there were sages or gurus who mastered a certain kind of ability to give spiritual counsel to the seekers. Russian history boasts about Starets or elders who have reached a stage where people run to them seeking spiritual advice.
Fydor Dostoevsky, the author of Brothers of Karamazov takes Starets Zosima as a spiritual guru in educating Aloysia. The role of persons like elder Zosima shows that to walk the path of righteousness, we need to have the right people who already walked that path for a long time.
Such leaders are like signposts, like educating a child to walk. Today we hear the names of prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist, both in different times of the history of humanity guided their people in their cosmic and acosmic quest for truth.
We hear the oracles of the prophet Isaiah in the first reading. He says that we will have someone who shall establish justice on the earth; he will be a light to the nations – a hope and new establishment. What kind of justice is he going to bring to us when we have our parliaments and courts to enact and execute laws? He reminds us that God’s justice is not like our justice.
His justice is to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, to take people out of dungeons and give them light so that they too can live forever with the everlasting One. A just society is one where everyone has what one needs, where one's dignity is respected and affirmed and where people live in the right relationships with each other.
John the Baptist answers the questions of people who are coming to see and listen to him on the banks of river Jordan. He is busy baptizing people with water and preparing them to listen to the One who is coming and is almost there.
II. Following a tradition means it has a meaning and purpose
And Jesus takes the baptism from John the Baptist and things become very clear when people hear God’s Word referring to his Son: “You are my beloved Son; with you, I am well pleased” (Mk 1:11). John and others become witnesses of this scene where the appointed one is really there, amidst of them.
Gospel speaks of prayer, baptism, dove, peace, heavenly voice, words of the fulfillment of the promise. There is no space for illusion; Jesus is the Son of God. Even though Mark rushes and begins the ministry of Jesus in the wilderness, the Gospel writer insists that Christ is the protagonist who brings God into our lives. Once Jesus appears on the scene of the public life of Galileans, John the Baptist becomes invisible; he fades away into the shadows.
When Galileans are confused with who the real promised one is, they receive an answer from John the Baptist saying that he is the one who would baptize people with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Mk 1:8). He would be like the Prophet Elijah type figure who brought down fire from heaven to destroy God’s enemies (2 Kgs 1).
Jesus does not stay aloof from people but becomes one with them by receiving baptism along with his countrymen and women in the river Jordan. Although, here, Jesus seems to rush onto the scene, the story reflects a God who has time for us. God enters into our rhythms, going through human rites of passage and feeling the current of the river dragging his clothing.
Instead of fire which the New Testament often speaks about Holy Spirit, here we have Holy Spirit in the form of a dove coming down upon him. Dove is a bird that brought the olive leaf to Noah after the flood, to signify a new era between God and His creation. Until now we have heard in the infancy narratives of Luke that God was speaking through his angels, but now here God speaks directly to Jesus.
It is a sign that would confirm Jesus even though human is the real Son of God. He is going to be a sign of God’s visible presence on this earth; who will be speaking for God and God alone.
He would establish the kingdom of God which will surpass manmade boundaries, manmade laws and regulations, manmade hostilities and horrors. Jesus would be hearing the same words again in Gethsemane before his death that God is going to be with him and is well pleased with his accomplishments as His Son.
Both water and fire symbols of purification. Disciples would be receiving the Holy Spirit in the form of fire and would be powerful people to carry out the message of Christ and become witnesses of truth. They would be preaching the kingdom of God to other people.
Jesus says the Kingdom of God is within you. How are we to recognize that Kingdom? It is by carrying within us the values of the kingdom like love, peace, justice, honesty, prudence, faithfulness, charity, fellowship and sharing them with others.
We are Christ’s disciples. God’s action at Christ’s baptism is a sign that each one of us who is baptized in Christ is called to carry within us the same Spirit of Christ. And this spirit of Christ helps us walk in his footsteps, where we can touch, hear, and see him. And the message is that we need to be his witnesses of love, hope and healing.
If incarnation becomes God’s docility and humility towards humanity now this is realized in Christ becoming part of the cleansing process along with sinners in the river Jordan. It is a sign that Christ is going to walk with people and finally bring them salvation. “The Word was made flesh and lived among us,” says John’s gospel in the prologue. His immersion into humanity becomes concrete in this action.
III. Baptism a sign of our belonging to God
As we celebrate this feast of Christ’s baptism, it is an opportunity for all of us to recall our own baptism that we received when we were just a few days old. Some of you might have been baptized adults. Baptism is a lifelong journey that begins our life in Christ. Thus we become members of Christ’s body that is the Church.
It is an experience of community where we are active members. If we live in the Spirit of Christ, then certainly, we cannot own a passive membership. We have to be actively involved in the life of the Church. The Church is not a private property; we don’t even own it communally. Christ is the owner of our Church. The Church is that which makes us alter Christi, another Christ.
Let us be vibrant collaborators of Christ’s mission here on earth. God who has sown the kingdom of God within us, be realized in our external activities. The Church is a community, which gathers in love, hope and faith. It gathers around an Alter which celebrates with others the same Christ who called us from various backgrounds.
Each one of us is called to be a living witness to the Gospel: to be the salt of the earth, a city on a hill, a lamp radiating light for all. Our baptism is a never-ending call to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Every word of Isaiah can also be applied to each one of us who has been baptized.
So let us today renew our faith in and our commitment to follow Jesus. Let us re-affirm our readiness to carry on his work. Perhaps, we can say with St Gregory of Nazianzen, ‘let us be buried with Christ by Baptism to rise with Him; let us go down with Him to be raised with Him; and let us rise with Him to be glorified with Him.’ Amen.
Questions for Reflections:1. What is that mean to you "belonging to God"?
2. What are the spaces in your daily life that you see the Spirit of God talking to you?
3. We know our Baptismal vocation is to put love into action. One of life’s tasks is to discern: how do I love best? What is my own particular, most creative way of loving?
Gracious Lord of heaven and earth, being the Great Physician, heal all our sick and guide us through this pandemic, grant eternal rest to those who have passed on and comfort those who are mourning with consolation and serenity. Help me to stop calling on my own power and learn to call upon the power of your Spirit, that dwells always within me and loves me, and waits only to be called. Empower me to fight evil wherever I may find it, and to tell the world of your grace in Christ Jesus. And may the Prince of Peace deepen and widen the blessing of truth and reconciliation throughout our world this year. Amen.
- Olvin Veigas, SJ
09 January 2021