January 12, 2014
The Baptism of the Lord
When Jesus presents himself for baptism, John the Baptist protests that he is
not worthy to perform this ritual for one greater than himself. But Jesus
insists and John relents. This insistence of Jesus seems to be based upon his
desire to join all those in Israel, who are not just renouncing their sinfulness
(which Jesus would not need to do), but are also declaring their readiness to
receive the Lord in whatever manner he may wish to come. After all, the baptism
of Jesus is not just an episode in his private life; it is the invitation of a
whole people to accept God's initiative for salvation.
In Matthew's account of Jesus' baptism, only the consequences are actually
described and they are very rich in symbolism. The opening of the heavens clears
the way for God to re-establish contact with his Chosen People. Thus, the
heavens are opened from the other side as God eagerly responds to the presence
of his appointed Messiah.
"The Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him" is the signal
for a new creation. This same "Spirit" had hovered over the deep in the original
creation (Genesis 1:2); and a new beginning was signaled again to Noah when the
dove returned to him after the flood (Genesis 8:11). This means that the coming
of Jesus also represents a new beginning. Hhistory will never be the same again.
The nature of the new creation is revealed in the final climactic words from
heaven. When Jesus is called God's "beloved Son," it means that this new world
will be filled with the love of God, radiating from his Son, who will become, in
a sense, the embodiment of God's love among us.
In today's Catholic practice, the meaning of baptism is expressed by the
sponsors with the assumption that the baptized child will, when old enough, be
expected to accept in his or her own name the profound commitments that
constitute the reality of a Christian life. The first reality is a discovery and
rejection of the "big lie" of Satan, the "father of lies" (John 8:44). This
ultimate lie is the belief that selfishness is the path to happiness.
Conversely, the ultimate truth is therefore a profound recognition and
commitment to a life or love and unselfishness. This path alone, though
difficult at times, is the only way to true happiness.
In this way, God's heavenly realm is opened to us and the creative Spirit calls
us to a new kind of life. The possibilities of this new existence are contained
in the words of the Father, "You are my beloved Son," now understood as spoken
to us also. For in our baptism we become children of God and thus join Jesus in
the family of God.
This fact has two important consequences. First of all, we are told by God that
we are his beloved children and this affirmation, heard throughout our lives,
liberates us from the bondage of fear and guilt and doubt. Perhaps the most
perfect prayer for Christians is, therefore, to ask God to tell us what we need
to hear. His answer to each of us will be, "You are my beloved child." There are
no words in this world that we need to hear more than these words!
Demetrius R. Dumm, OSB.