January 10, 2016 — The Baptism of the Lord
Today officially brings our Christmas season to a close. Prior to being elected Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. In that role he said this about why the Lord’s Baptism was part of the Christmas season: “It is the continuation of the manifestation of the Word of God, which is what Christmas is all about.”
As we celebrate Christ’s Baptism today, we also renew our own Baptisms, and are called to recognize the parallels as they apply to our own lives. Our First Reading from the Prophet Isaiah is part of a section called by some scholars “The Servant’s Song.” The Servant is, of course, Jesus Christ. God speaks to us in anticipation of Jesus’ Baptism as reported in our Gospel from St. Luke today. “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit.”
Jesus is not just an example to us. He is our Servant. He came to serve us and continues to do so through His love for us. He provides us with care, guidance, and intercession. His call to be a Servant was realized in His Baptism. We received that same call at our own Baptism. That is the call to service we appreciate as stewardship, the call to love and serve one another.
The Second Reading from the Acts of the Apostles is part of the brief sermon given by St. Peter at the house of Cornelius. Peter was very consistent in his sermons. He did not change them based upon the audience. He speaks that all people are saved by Christ; he emphasizes the work of the Lord. In today’s reading Peter points out that Jesus’ ministry began in Galilee after the Baptism. Cornelius and most of those present were Gentiles. That is why Peter makes it clear that Jesus is “Lord of all.”
What is implied in St. Peter’s words (and is reported in today’s Gospel) is that Jesus was baptized as a way to identify with us. Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit and the power associated with that. God was with Him, just as the Lord is always with us. In keeping with the First Reading Jesus is foretold by the Prophets. Through our own Baptisms we received the power of the Holy Spirit; we received Jesus as our constant companion; and God has expected and called us also. We need to work to respond.
Christ’s Baptism is reported in detail in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Although the Baptism is not detailed in the Gospel of John, the entire Gospel of John begins with Jesus’ public ministry and makes reference to Christ’s Baptism as what launched Jesus’ ministry. St. John the Baptist says in John Chapter 1 basically this, “I baptize with water, but He baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” Biblical scholars point to Jesus’ Baptism as the first indication of the Holy Trinity; Jesus, the Son, is present; when He is baptized, the Holy Spirit descends upon Him; and God announces from the Heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.”
Even though the Baptism of the Lord is reported in effect in all Gospels, St. Luke includes one seemingly minor but significant addition in today’s Gospel. Luke writes, “After all the people had been baptized, and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him.” St. Luke is the only Gospel writer who reports that Jesus was praying during His Baptism. Luke’s gospel is filled with references to Christ praying. It is something of which we need to take note. We are called to pray; we are called to serve; we need to pray for God’s guidance in how we can serve, how we can live out our Baptismal vows most effectively.