The Baptism of Jesus
When in Rome, a visit to the Baptistry of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran is a must. It is the oldest church in Rome and was dedicated after Constantine became Emperor and issued the Edict of Milan in 313. This edict gave freedom of religion to Christians and it marked a watershed in the history of Christianity because for the first time Christians no longer had to fear persecution and could concentrate on building on the foundations of the faith laid in the previous three centuries from the time of the Apostles.
When you walk into the Baptistry, the first thing you see is the Baptismal Pool. It was designed in such a way that water could flow into and out of it. It fills to a depth of about three feet and was used for Baptism by immersion in the early Church. In those days, it was mainly adults who were baptized. When they arrived for Baptism following a period of instruction and formation lasting about three years, they removed their ordinary clothing and were baptized by being immersed fully in the water in the name of the Father and the Son and they Holy Spirit. Upon emerging from the water, they were clothed in a new white garment, symbolizing the fact that they had been clothed in Christ and were now born anew as a son or daughter of the Heavenly Father. In that sense, the words spoken by the Father about Jesus in today’s Gospel reading from Saint Matthew, is now also applied to them: This is my beloved son/daughter; the beloved; my favor rests on him/her. For that is what baptism is all about!
Back now to today’s feast of The Baptism of the Lord! John the Baptist was driven by one mission: to point people to Jesus, to prepare the way for Jesus. Yet John is uneasy in this account of Jesus’ baptism. The moment has arrived but he is standing before someone much greater than himself and is being asked to minister. John feels unqualified, unworthy of such a task. After some persuasion ‘John gave into him’ and accepted his responsibility. This is a lesson to all of us, not to let feelings of inadequacy stop us from carrying out our various missions and vocations in our lives. Jesus explains to John that this is necessary as a sign for the beginning of his ministry, a public statement of identity.
Today we might consider our own baptism and what it means to us. At that moment we were anointed as priests, prophets and Kings. To what extent do we live this out in our Christian lives? John points us towards Jesus and we can ask, do we also point the way to Jesus for others? How can we be a signpost for others?
Let us remember today those who pointed the way for us at various times in our life. Maybe a chaplain in school or college, a teacher, grandparent, a friend, a retreat you participated in. At various times in our lives we meet these ‘signposts’ which help us to grow in our faith and deepen our awareness of Christ’s love. Let us celebrate all of these ‘baptismal’ moments today.
The Baptism of Jesus marks a turning point in His life, and the start of His public ministry. Let us recall moments when our life changed and we moved into a new phase.
The experience was one in which Jesus had a new sense of his own identity. What have been the experiences which have helped shaped our sense of who we are?
How have we come to an awareness of being a child of God, beloved by God, one on whom rests the grace of God?
It is surprising that Jesus, the Savior of the world, asks to be baptized by John. The request symbolizes His desire to identify with us. At the same time, He is filled with the Holy Spirit. That step of identifying
with us is an important element in His being able to help us. Have we ever found that when someone identifies with us, it is easier for him/her to help us? Has our ability to identify with others had any impact on our effectiveness in helping others?