Baptism of Jesus

During Advent we accompanied John the Baptist who was preparing the way of the Lord. John offered his fellow Jews a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John the Baptist’s call to repentance and baptism was a prophetic act pointing forward to Christ.

Yet if Jesus was without sin, why did Jesus submit to John’s baptism in today’s Gospel? The Catechism notes, “The baptism of Jesus is on his part the acceptance and inauguration of his mission as God’s suffering Servant. He allows himself to be numbered among sinners” (CCC 536). Jesus joins himself to sinners, in order that this union will anticipate his death on the cross. By doing so, he sanctifies the waters of Baptism and opens the heavens to sinners (Luke 3:21).

Our Gospel says, “Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah.” (Luke 3:15). Jewish expectations about the Messiah were quite diverse but they were often taken from the prophet Isaiah.

The book of Isaiah can be divided into two parts, the Book of Woes, Isaiah (1–39), which deals with Israel’s exile, and the Book of Consolations, Isaiah (40–66), which concerns God’s future promises for a restored Israel. In the Book of Consolations, a mysterious figure appears called the Suffering Servant.

Our Old Testament reading for this Mass begins with this second part of Isaiah, “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased. Upon him I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations” (Isaiah 42:1).

Concerning this future Servant, Isaiah tells the Israelites that this servant ‘borne the people’s infirmities’ and was ‘wounded for their transgressions,’ and that ‘by his bruises they were healed” (Isaiah 53:3-5). Isaiah tells them, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

For the ancient Israelites the waters of Baptism represented death and rising to new life. St. Paul describes this as follows, “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).

As the Catechism noted, although Jesus had no need of repentance, he “… poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors” (CCC 536, Isaiah 53:12). Entering the waters of Baptism was like entering the grave. Jesus joined himself to sinful humanity in order that he might bring them new life in the Spirit through his sacrificial death on the cross.

John the Baptist told the crowds “I am baptizing you with water, but . . . He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16). It is the Spirit who identifies the Messiah. Regarding the suffering servant, Isaiah tells us, “The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news. . .” (Isaiah 61:1). Jesus makes this passage his personal mission statement at the beginning of his ministry (Luke 4:18-21; 7:22-23).

In certain strands of Jewish expectation, the coming of the Messiah would also be the age of the Spirit. Messiah means anointed one and Jesus is anointed with the Spirit as God’s Suffering Servant. Luke tells us the Spirit confirms this by descending “upon Jesus in bodily form like a dove” (Luke 3:22).

Jesus mission is also confirmed by a heavenly voice, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” These words seem in part to echo Psalm 2:7 “You are my son; today I have begotten you” but also Isaiah 42:1 “my servant . . . with whom I am pleased.”

What does Jesus’ Baptism mean to each of us today? After Jesus’ death and resurrection, St. Peter preached a sermon to his fellow Jews and the crowd ask him the same question that was asked earlier of St. John the Baptist (Luke 3:10, 12, 14). What should we do? (Acts 2:37).

The Apostle Peter replies, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38).

What was anticipated in John the Baptist’s baptism has now reached fulfillment. The normal Christian journey to new life in Christ involves a number of key elements; faith, repentance, Baptism, and reception of the Spirit.

Luke tells us that when the crowd heard Peter’s message “they were cut to the heart” (Ac 2:37). Following this deliberate act of faith and repentance, Baptism now brings the genuine grace of forgiveness of sins and is connected with the fullness of receiving the Holy Spirit.

Yet, the sacramental acts of Baptism and Confirmation must be accompanied by what the fathers of Second Vatican Council called “The obedience of faith” (Romans 13:26; 2 Corinthians 10:5-6). This type of faith is “an obedience by which man commits his whole self freely to God, offering the full submission of intellect and will to God who reveals” (Dei Verbum 5). This act of faith leads us to a life in the Spirit. “The grace of God and the interior help of the Holy Spirit must precede and assist, moving the heart and turning it to God, opening the eyes of the mind and giving ‘joy and ease to everyone in assenting to the truth and believing it’” (Dei Verbum 5).

Like the crowds, each one of us must personally ask: What should we do? Baptism is the gateway to eternal life. Through it we receive initial forgiveness of sins and union with Christ through the Spirit. But our union with Christ is intended to be joined to the obedience of faith, or our personal “Yes” to God in our will.

It is also intended to result in an interior relationship with the Spirit who cries out “Abba Father” in our hearts (Romans 8:14-15, Galatians 4:6). We receive the fullness of the Spirit in Confirmation, but this is a dynamic relationship which is intended to constantly open our hearts to more of God’s love.

I would like to conclude in the cry of the Psalmist, “O that today you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts . . .” (Psalm 95:7–8, Hebrews 3:15).

Deacon Scott McKellar is Pastoral Associate at St. Therese Parish, North.

Daily Scripture Readings

For complete daily Scripture texts, click here: http://www.usccb.org

Monday, January 14
Hebrews 1:1-6
Psalms 97:1 & 2b, 6 & 7C, 9
Mark 1:14-20

Tuesday, January 15
Hebrews 2:5-12
Psalms 8:2ab & 5, 6-7, 8-9
Mark 1:21-28

Wednesday, January 16
Hebrews 2:14-18
Psalms 105:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8-9
Mark 1:29-39

Thursday, January 17
Hebrews 3:7-14
Psalms 95:6-7c, 8-9, 10-11
Mark 1:40-45

Friday, January 18
Hebrews 4:1-5, 11
Psalms 78:3 & 4bc, 6c-7, 8
Mark 2:1-12

Saturday, January 19
Hebrews 4:12-16
Psalms 19:8, 9, 10, 15
Mark 2:13-17

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 20
Isaiah 62:1-5
Psalms 96:1-2, 2-3, 7-8, 9-10
1 Corinthians 12:4-11
John 2:1-11

Monday, January 21
Hebrews 5:1-10
Psalms 110:1, 2, 3, 4
Mark 2:18-22

Tuesday, January 22
Hebrews 6:10-20
Psalms 111:1-2, 4-5, 9 & 10c
Mark 2:23-28

Wednesday, January 23
Hebrews 7:1-3, 15-17
Psalms 110:1, 2, 3, 4
Mark 3:1-6

Thursday, January 24
Hebrews 7:25—8:6
Psalms 40:7-8a, 8b-9, 10, 17
Mark 3:7-12

Friday, January 25
Acts 22:3-16 or Acts 9:1-22
Psalms 117:1bc, 2
Mark 16:15-18

Saturday, January 26
2 Timothy 1:1-8
Psalms 96:1-2a, 2b-3, 7-8a, 10
Mark 3:20-21

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 27
Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10
Psalms 19:8, 9, 10, 15
1 Corinthians 12:12-30
or 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 27
Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21

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Tuesday
November 19, 2019
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph