The Baptism of Jesus, Rosalind Hore, St. Edmund’s Anglican Church, Tyseley, Birmingham, UK.
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[John said] “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming.
I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Luke 3:16.
All four gospels have dramatic descriptions of John the Baptist, and the importance he played in inaugurating Jesus’ ministry. Even at the time, he was a huge public figure. Today’s gospel has the people wondering if he is the chosen one, the “Christ”, or Χρίστος, (“Christos” in the original Greek of the New Testament), meaning simply “Anointed One”, or, put another way, that John might be the “Messiah” (in Hebrew, “מָשִׁיחַ” or Messias), also meaning Anointed One. And the understanding of “anointed” is anointed by God. Today it implies being touched with sacred oil, and has a lineage dating back to the prophet Samuel who anointed David king using oil. At that point, God claimed David in a special way, and so down through the centuries, an anointing has had a strong spiritual meaning. When you are anointed, you are claimed by God; you belong to God, clearly spelled out in today’s first reading from Isaiah. So when, in today’s gospel, it says the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus, thus anointing him, he became God’s Anointed One, the Christ, the Messiah. John himself recognized this when he said he was not worthy enough even to untie the thongs of the Anointed One’s sandals. As mentioned last week concerning the meaning of epiphany, this too was an epiphany, a revelation of God’s presence. Notable in this event is the revelation of the Holy Trinity, God Father, Son and Holy Spirit; (and always remember that in the language spoken by Jesus, Aramaic, and in Hebrew, the word Spirit is feminine…..).
Jesus also learned at this moment he was God’s Son, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” the voice from heaven said. Hence he learned two things, that he was the Anointed One, the Messiah, and that he was the Son of God. In other words, he learned his identity and his vocation; as the loyal Son of God (his identity, who he was), he would obey God’s vocation for him, to be the Messiah (his vocation, or what he was) and fulfill all the scriptural prophecies both glorious and horrible (look closely at the picture above) concerning the Messiah. That was why he went straight into the wilderness for 40 days, to come to grips with these two revelations. What was he now called to do by God his Father and how would he do it? That is why the gospel of Mark, the shortest and the earliest, begins with this epic baptismal event. It starts everything.
And so it does with us too, which I believe is the focus of today’s solemnity. Most of us will not have a single memory of our baptism, being perhaps six months old at the time. But if we have been to someone else’s baptism, or been baptized when older, perhaps we noticed the structure. There are two solemn moments. One is the baptism with water. The other is the anointing with holy oil, the “oil of catechumens” the outward sign of the Holy Spirit of God entering us. The anointing preceeds the baptism with water. So our reception of the sacrament of baptism parallels the baptism of Jesus. Hence we too have been given our identity and vocation at baptism. It was at that moment that each of us became a child of God (through our anointing), and were given our vocation (baptism) to be christ to the world. It is identical to Jesus’ baptism, if a little less dramatic (though see below). This feast day inaugurates the “ordinary time” of the church’s year. Hence it begins the time we consider, Sunday in and Sunday out, how we have behaved as children of God, fulfilling our vocation as christ to the world. By “christ” I mean that we follow God’s vocation for each of us depending on the innate gifts we were given at birth. We don’t have Jesus’ powers, but we do have our own powers, our talents developed into skills with which we fulfill God’s wishes for each of us. It is through them that we serve God’s people just as Jesus did. Mass each Sunday is the perfect time to give thanks for such gifts, and to reflect on how we have responded to the call to serve each other, as God wishes us to, through good times and bad. And at each Mass, we have our spiritual strength renewed, ready for the next week. For we are not, ever, alone.
Pope Francis Baptizes in St.Peter’s, Rome, August 13, 2017.
Total Immersion Orthodox Baptism, The Moscow Times, House Springs, Mo, USA.
Total Immersion Adult Baptism with the First Baptist Church, Wilmington, DE, USA, June, 2018.
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