WHY WAS JESUS BAPTIZED?
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7;
Acts of the Apostles 10:34-38;
Why, indeed? Jesus had no sin. John’s baptism was one of repentance, but Jesus had no need of repentance. In fact, in Matthew’s account of the Baptism of the Lord (not read this year), John actually tried to prevent Jesus from being baptized by him, saying that the roles should be reversed. Jesus, however, urged John to “go along for now,” and John complied.
So the Baptism of Jesus is one of the more curious – but glorious – events in the gospels. It marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry and is one of the three traditional “manifestations” of Jesus, along with the Epiphany to the Magi and the Wedding Feast at Cana.
The constant thread running through each reading of today’s Feast is: the Holy Spirit.
The first reading is from Isaiah, as it has been throughout much of the Advent/Christmas Season. Today’s passage is from the first of the four “Servant Songs.” “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations.” This verse fittingly expresses the liturgical themes for this day: the Father being “well pleased” with Jesus; Jesus being anointed with the Spirit; and the orientation “to the nations,” in keeping with the “manifestation” of Jesus to the world.
The remainder of the reading is a beautiful description of the character of the Servant of the Lord, who is Jesus: “not crying out, not making his voice heard in the street; a bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench…” In fact, Matthew 12:18-21 quotes this very passage of Isaiah 42:1-4 and explicitly states that Jesus fulfilled this prophecy.
Further, Jesus will be a “covenant of the people, a light for the nations.” Jesus will establish the New Covenant in his blood and is the true light come into the world that the darkness cannot overcome (cf. John 1:9,5). This is all because the Father has anointed Jesus, the Son of God, with a special anointing of the Spirit of God for his mission on earth.
The constant theme of John the Baptist’s message, which we also heard in the Advent readings as well, is: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
At his baptism, the Spirit comes upon Jesus like a dove. Jesus is the “baptized Baptizer…the anointed Anointer.” He is the one who will then baptize humanity in the Holy Spirit. This is the key to his entire earthly mission, accomplished through his life, death, resurrection and ascension.
ACTS OF THE APOSTLES
In his sermon at the house of Cornelius, St. Peter brings out several themes appropriate to today’s celebration:
“God shows no partiality…in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.”
“…he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.”
“God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power.”
The mission of Jesus – Servant of God and light to the nations – is to all people. As chapter 10 of Acts continues beyond today’s reading, we see that Peter’s preaching is interrupted by an unexpected outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the gathering, as evidenced by their “speaking in tongues and magnifying God.” Peter ordered that this group of Gentiles be baptized without first undergoing the ritual of circumcision. This was a daring break with the customary practice at the time. One Scripture scholar credits the gift of tongues with making it possible for Gentiles to enter the Church without converting to Judaism first.
THE END AND THE BEGINNING
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord officially ends the Christmas Season. We now enter into Ordinary Time as we await the beginning of Lent. We are reminded that life is a series of endings and beginnings. Jesus ended his “hidden life” and began his public ministry, leading to his saving death and resurrection. As we begin this calendar year, we all will probably face some endings and new beginnings in one way or another.
Today’s Feast presents us with the need for the anointing of the Holy Spirit for all we undertake. May our prayer for today and every day this year be: Lord Jesus, baptized Baptizer, baptize me fully in your Holy Spirit. Lord Jesus, anointed Anointer, anoint me powerfully in your Holy Spirit. May I so live in your Holy Spirit that the Father would always be well pleased with me. Amen.