January 9, 2011 – The Baptism of the Lord
On the face of it, Jesus’ baptism by St. John the Baptist would seem to have been unnecessary. At least, that’s how it seemed to John. The baptism he proclaimed, as we heard in Advent, was a baptism of repentance for those who acknowledged their sins. Matthew 3 tells us that John objected that Jesus ought to be baptizing him, rather than the other way around, for he recognized that Jesus had no sins for which to repent.
But Jesus insisted, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” In order to achieve God’s saving plan for humanity, Jesus needed to identify himself with us sinners.
However, more happens at the Jordan than Jesus’ identification of himself with the human condition. Here he undergoes his final preparation to begin his public ministry. The Holy Spirit descents in visible form upon him, and the Father proclaims Jesus as his beloved Son, which fulfills the Servant Song of the prophet Isaiah (42:1), “… my chosen one with whom I am pleased.” As Peter proclaimed, “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… for God was with him” (Acts 10:36-38)
But there is a difference between the baptism St. John performed at the Jordan River and the sacrament of Baptism established by Jesus after his Resurrection. The baptism of the Baptist was a public admission that one was a sinner and a declaration of repentance but in itself did not provide the hoped-for forgiveness. After Jesus’ Crucifixion as the sacrifice for our sins and his Resurrection as a triumph over the powers of death, the baptism he instituted conveys the grace that effects what it symbolizes.
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it (537), “Through Baptism the Christian is sacramentally assimilated to Jesus, who in his own baptism anticipates his death and resurrection. The Christian must enter into this mystery of humble self-abasement and repentance, go down into the water with Jesus in order to rise with him, be reborn of water and the Spirit so as to become the Father’s beloved son in the Son and ‘walk in newness of life’ (Rom 6:4).”
What difference does this make to us? It makes all the difference in the world! Having been reborn as God’s adopted children through Baptism, we also share in the power that the Holy Spirit gives. We’re not to let anyone, least of all ourselves, confuse us with Jesus Christ himself. But walking in newness of life, we are called to imitate Jesus and go about doing good.
And that is the key to good stewardship. Walking in newness of life means that we view every aspect of our situation – our job, our family, our community – in a different way than those who live with themselves as the centers of their life. And in response to this new life, we use our time, our talent, and our treasure for doing good as the Father’s beloved children.