Today when we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord, we are offered an opportunity to reflect upon the grace/s of our baptism. The Baptism of Our Lord is the beginning of his public ministry. While, Christmas could be perceived as the revelation of Jesus to the Jews, Epiphany could be considered as the revelation of Jesus to the Gentiles, and the Baptism of Our Lord could be viewed as the revelation of Jesus to the sinners.
The concept of Baptism is not an invention of John the Baptist or of Jesus. It was prevalent in Jewish society and is attested to in the Old Testament. The Old Testament ablutions were about cleansing from sin and guilt. Washing and bathing was generally associated with cleansing from unholy or sinful condition. Cleansing, thus, was an attempt to recover the lost state of life, a spiritual cleansing. The Jews of the Old Testament had prescribed practices of cleansing and purification, and meticulously fulfilled them to the letter.
The Baptism of Jesus, however, is not about a cleansing, but about an identity. Jesus was in need of no cleansing, as he is the Holy One, the Son of God. The Baptism of Jesus was an occasion to reveal his identity as the ‘beloved,’ ‘the Son.’ It was the moment for the identity of Jesus to be announced to the public – an identity of divine filiation. It was the exposure of the intimacy Jesus shared with his Father in heaven. He was the ‘beloved’ through whom we would ‘be loved,’ and brought back into the divine embrace of love. The ‘beloved’ was manifested to those who had strayed from the love of God, and offered as the means of and a remedy to becoming beloved again.
The Baptism of Jesus establishes the identity and mission of Jesus. The ‘beloved’ of God had the mission to bring others in being the beloved of God. Jesus is given as the promise of a new life, which is a grace-filled and graceful life. Jesus is the source of regeneration to sinful humanity. He is the good news of salvation who will offer a new life unto those who receive him. The promise of the new life is made a reality unto us in our Baptism. We are washed clean and filled with the Holy Spirit and with grace. We are made a new person in Jesus Christ.
St. Cyrian of Carthage reminds us saying: “For as I myself was held in bonds by the innumerable errors of my previous life, from which I did not believe that I could by possibility be delivered, so I was disposed to acquiesce in my clinging vices; and because I despaired of better things, I used to indulge my sins as if they were actually parts of me, and indigenous to me. But after that, by the help of the water of new birth, the stain of former years had been washed away, and a light from above, serene and pure, had been infused into my reconciled heart, after that, by the agency of the Spirit breathed from heaven, a second birth had restored me to a new man; then, in a wondrous manner, doubtful things at once began to assure themselves to me, hidden things to be revealed, dark things to be enlightened, what before had seemed difficult began to suggest a means of accomplishment, what had been thought impossible, to be capable of being achieved; so that I was enabled to acknowledge that what previously, being born of the flesh, had been living in the practice of sins, was of the earth earthly, but had now begun to be of God, and was animated by the Spirit of holiness.”
The Baptism of Jesus gives meaning and purpose to our Baptism. We share in the life offered to us by Jesus, when we are made a new person. It establishes our identity as being made the ‘beloved’ of God in Jesus. It reminds us who we are, and what we are called for. As with Jesus, our Baptism offers us our identity and mission. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that, by Baptism we become the adopted sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus, members of his Church, heirs of Heaven and temples of the Holy Spirit. We become incorporated into the Church, the Body of Christ, and made sharers in the priesthood of Christ. Therefore, “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” (CCC. 1213).
Our mission, too, is given to us at Baptism. Our mission is to live as the beloved of God, conscious of our dignity as God’s children. We are called to surrender to God’s grace and to His Holy Spirit, by leading holy and truthful lives. It is our calling in Baptism to grow in the intimacy of God through a life of prayer, reading and reflection of the Word of God, and by participating worthily in the sacraments. Our mission is to be like Jesus, bringing others to recognize God and to recognize one’s self before God, in all humility. Our Baptism invites us to co-operate with God in the building up of His Kingdom, by helping others, through our words and actions, to become the beloved of God.
As we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, let us recall the grace of our Baptism, and pray to God, that we may strive to respond to, live by and be agents of God’s grace, in and through our lives.