January 9, 2011
The Baptism of the Lord
When Jesus presents himself for baptism, John the Baptist protests that
he is not worthy to perform this ritual for one greater than himself. But Jesus
insists and John relents. This insistence of Jesus seems to be based upon his
desire to join all those in Israel, who are not just renouncing their sinfulness
(which Jesus would not need to do), but are also declaring their readiness to
receive the Lord in whatever manner he may wish to come. After all, the baptism
of Jesus is not just an episode in his private life; it is the invitation of a
whole people to accept God’s initiative for salvation.
In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism, only the consequences are actually
described and they are very rich in symbolism. The opening of the heavens clears
the way for God to re-establish contact with his Chosen People. Thus, the
heavens are opened from the other side as God eagerly responds to the presence
of his appointed Messiah.
“The Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him” is the
signal for a new creation. This same “Spirit” had hovered over the deep in the
original creation (Genesis 1:2); and a new beginning was signaled again to Noah
when the dove returned to him after the flood (Genesis 8:11). This means that
the coming of Jesus also represents a new beginning. Hhistory will never be the
The nature of the new creation is revealed in the final climactic words
from heaven. When Jesus is called God’s “beloved Son,” it means that this new
world will be filled with the love of God, radiating from his Son, who will
become, in a sense, the embodiment of God’s love among us.
In today’s Catholic practice, the meaning of baptism is expressed by the
sponsors with the assumption that the baptized child will, when old enough, be
expected to accept in his or her own name the profound commitments that
constitute the reality of a Christian life. The first reality is a discovery and
rejection of the “big lie” of Satan, the “father of lies” (John 8:44). This
ultimate lie is the belief that selfishness is the path to happiness.
Conversely, the ultimate truth is therefore a profound recognition and
commitment to a life or love and unselfishness. This pate alone, though
difficult at times, is the only way to true happiness.
In this way, God’s heavenly realm is opened to us and the creative
Spirit calls us to a new kind of life. The possibilities of this new existence
are contained in the words of the Father, “You are my beloved Son,” now
understood as spoken to us also. For in our baptism we become children of God
and thus join Jesus in the family of God.
This fact has two important consequences. First of all, we are told by
God that we are his beloved children and this affirmation, heard throughout our
lives, liberates us from the bondage of fear and guilt and doubt. Perhaps the
most perfect prayer for Christians is, therefore, to ask God to tell us what we
need to hear. His answer to each of us will be, “You are my beloved child.”
There are no words in this world that we need to hear more than these words!
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.