GSC 13 January 2019
Some of you here will have been baptised as adults and you will remember the occasion very well and, I hope, with a great sense of thanksgiving. Most of us who were baptised as infants have little or no recollection of the day except what we have been told by family and Godparents but we will remember the day that we received Confirmation froma bishop, which is really the second part of Baptism when we take on the promises and responsibilities, under God`s grace for ourselves. The Baptism of Jesus did not take place until he was about thirty years old. We know that at the age of Twelve Jesus had gone missing from the returning caravan to Nazareth and had been found in the Temple at Jerusalem by his anxious mother, Mary and foster-Father Joseph from which time, until his baptism by his cousin John – the last and most important of the Old Testament Prophets – at the age of thirty. In the meantime he would have finished his apprenticeship, under Joseph, as a carpenter and carried on the modest family business, having buried his foster-father and cared for his mother until this moment of commissioning for his earthly ministry.
All four Gospels record the Lord`s Baptism and each with a different slant: Mark` account in Chapter 1 verses 9 to 12 give all the essentials but is short, urgent and very much to the point! Matthew, in chapter 3 verses 13 to 17 gives a rather fuller account including a short but apparent altercation between John and Jesus and then, on verse 1 of chapter 4 we are told that Jesus was led into the wilderness for forty days and forty nights. Luke in chapter 3 give a rather fuller account of the work of John the Baptist which clearly explains how many had expected that John was, himself, the Messiah who had ben prophesied of old and, quoting the prophecy of Isaiah, and teaching the way of repentance and change of life through obedience to scripture and baptism. So powerful was he that many had thought that he was the Messiah but he points away from himself and towards Jesus. Indeed, after the Lord`s baptism, Luke continues the story with the genealogy of Jesus going right back to Adam, before, at the beginning of chapter 4 he records that: ` Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit to the wilderness where he was tempted and fasted for forty days and nights`.
In St. John`s Gospel the reference to the Baptism of Jesus is rather more oblique for he points to Jesus as `The Lamb of God` that is to say the one who was to be the one perfect sacrifice for the salvation of all humankind who would accept Him. And John records: `This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me. I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him….”
If I digress by looking briefly at the four accounts of the Lord`s baptism it is because that baptism of the lord is so important for us. To return now to St. Luke`s account there are a number of points which Luke emphasises:
“Heaven opened” which seems to show that in Jesus who is the Christ the Saviour any dualism or barrier is broken down for it shows the essential union between God and humanity and humanity and nature’
“The Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove” This experience of the Holy Spirit is vivid but profoundly gentle so much so that it could only have come from heaven itself.
“A voice came from heaven” Once again, just as the Spirit was seen to descend in bodily form like a dove so the voice of the Father is both so vivid and gentle that it could only have come from heaven. The voice of the Father makes three statements:
“You are my Son” – In the Scriptures, divine sonship is attributed to kings, usually at their enthronement; in this statement God the Father is conferring royal power on His Son Jesus.
“The beloved” – Jesus, then, at his baptism is assured that he is loved tenderly by the Father just as a bridegroom is loved by his bride.
“My favour rests on you” indicates that the Father`s love is a permanence with and for Jesus – it is not in any way temporary but is to sustain him throughout his relatively short earthly ministry of just three years. What is more, for us who share that following of his disciples, it is our first full glimpse of the interaction of God the Holy Trinity. In this permanence of the loving relationship of Father and Son through and in the Holy Spirit it reminds us of how Jesus spread this love in the words he uses at the Last Supper, ”As the Father has loved me so I have loved you, remain in my love.”(John 5:9).
The Baptism of the Lord is too His Great Commissioning for the work he is to do after his prayerful fasting and reflection in the Wilderness which we ourselves will contemplate more fully when Lent comes on 6thMarch.
Of the four evangelists it is only Luke who tell us that after the actual baptism – the dousing with water in and through the Jordan River Jesus was at prayer as the Spirit was seen to descend and the voice of the Father was heard. He writes this: Now when all the people had been baptised and while Jesus, after his own baptism was at prayer, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily shape, like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, `You are my Son, the Beloved, may favour rests on you.`
Today`s first reading from Chapter 40 of the Prophecy of Isaiah foretells the work and ministry of John the Baptist and that portion of the letter of St. Paul to Titus, in the second reading, tells us how that we too are born again in the waters of Baptism and, by implication, sustained and fed on the Bread of Life which is Jesus Himself as he comes to us every time we receive Him into ourselves at Mass.