This is what John the Baptist proclaimed: “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.”
It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Embracing our humanity
The life of Jesus of Nazareth, as we know, begins with the “infancy stories” which we read in Matthew and Luke, and even with the Logos’ (Word) existence with God “in the beginning” which we read in John. But these are “prologues” of the main event—the public life and ministry of Jesus. The main event begins with the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. Baptism is the “door” through which Jesus entered and changed human affairs. In fact, the kerygma or first announcement of the Apostles about Jesus refers to it.
Peter explains to the household of Cornelius: “You know… what has happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:36-38).
Baptism in Judaism in Jesus’ time was done through immersion. One enters “into the waters” which recalls the
death symbolism of the annihilating power of the ocean flood. One therefore “dies” to sin which one confesses while being immersed in the water.
But the flowing waters of the river also symbolize life. As one emerges from the water, one is purified of the sinful past that burdens and distorts life. One becomes new again and starts a new life.
Was this true of Jesus? He has no sins to confess, as pointed out by John himself: “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” (Mt 3:14). Rather, Jesus’ lining with sinners to receive baptism expresses his solidarity with sinful humanity; he loads the burden of mankind’s guilt upon his shoulders, and removes it by his resurrection.
Jesus’ baptism is his “anointing” by God, empowering him to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom, as already explained by Peter. Mark writes that the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in bodily form like a dove. And the heavenly Father declares Jesus as his beloved Son, with whom he is well pleased. Receiving his “credentials,” Jesus begins his journey which will end in his death and resurrection.
What about us?
Our own baptism opens for us “the door” to a journey from a state of sin into a new life, as we are “immersed” in water and rise from it. St. Paul tells us the effect of this sacrament: “We were indeed buried… with him through baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Rom 6:4).
SOURCE: “365 Days with the Lord 2021,” ST. PAULS, 7708 St. Paul Rd., SAV, Makati City (Phils.); Tel.: 632-895-9701; Fax 632-895-7328; E-mail: [email protected]; Website: http://www.stpauls.ph.