The Baptism of the Lord
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is like a bridge between the Christmas cycle and ordinary time. It helps us look back on what was lived and celebrated in the Liturgy of the Christmas and Epiphany cycle. It also puts us in expectation of the entire liturgical year whose aim is to present revelation to know and adhere to the person of Jesus. The Baptism of the Lord is the starting point in the original preaching (kerygma) scheme of the Apostles. Today’s second reading says: “You know the word that he sent to the Israelites as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all, what has happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached.” Jesus’ baptism is presented as the beginning of his public life, as his mission as anointed (Christ) of God and Savior of humanity. Each evangelist reinforces different aspects of this event according to their respective theological intention. Each evangelist highlights important and complementary characteristics. Matthew presents that Christ is the one who fulfills all righteousness: “Leave it like this for the time being; it is fitting that we should, in this way, do all that uprightness demands. Then John gave in to him” (Mt 3:15). In Luke’s narration, we find the praying Jesus as described in other moments: “Jesus was baptized, He was in prayer“. Jesus is the praying Son, for this is the experience that most reveals and strengthens his communion with the Father.
Mark, the text used in this liturgical year, shows directly that God’s work is recreated with Jesus. Paradise is reopened, and all creation is reconciled: “He lived among the beasts, and the angels served him” (Mk 1:13). Even though the narration is shorter, it contains the fundamental elements common to all other evangelical narrations. Jesus enters and leaves the waters, the heavens opening, and the voice from above that is heard.
The baptism as a rite is not an exclusive event related to Jesus. Before Jesus was baptized, many had already been baptized by John the Baptist. In this way, the question arises about the meaning and purpose of baptism according to each baptized person’s reality. We can deal with a theological evolution of the meaning of the baptism of John the Baptist, of the baptism of Jesus, and of Christian baptism, whose origin is in the mandate of the Lord Himself (Mk 16,16). John the Baptist baptizes to prepare for the arrival of the Messiah. The people who come to be baptized are called to enter the dynamics of repentance to hasten the coming of God’s envoy. The precursor’s mission ends with the arrival of the Messiah. However, he must baptize the Messiah, whose baptism no longer has the previous meaning. Jesus is not baptized himself to hasten the Messiah’s coming, nor to receive the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus’ baptism is the public proclamation that he is genuinely announcing the veteran testamentary messianic promises. However, a messiah who exceeds all expectations of his time. Jesus is not only an envoy from God, a special anointed one, but he is the beloved Son of the Father as the gospel proclaims: “You are my beloved Son…”
In the Baptism of Jesus, the new creation is announced, symbolically presented in the light of the first creation (Gen 1). As at the beginning of everything, there was the waters’ scenario. Now Jesus breaks out of the waters of the Jordan. If the Spirit of God hovered over the waters in the beginning, now the same Spirit descends on Jesus. The first creature, called into existence, was light. In the new creation, a created being does not appear, but the firstborn is the Father’s beloved Son. Everything was created by him and for him.
Finally, it is essential to show that there is also a fundamental distinction between Christian baptism, John’s baptism, and Jesus’ baptism. Neither of the latter two effectively made the baptized son of God a participant in the new creation. The rite of John Baptist prepared but did not perform. Jesus’ baptism did not make him an eternal son of the Father, as he had always been. However, Christian baptism, the mandate of Jesus after his resurrection, plunges him into Trinity’s reality and makes the baptized a beloved son of the Father.
Celebrating the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is more than remembering an important event in the life of Jesus as a watershed for his mission. This feast helps us become aware that the baptism must experience its quality of discontinuity. It is a break with chaos (sin) and commitment to the new life that makes us participants in the new creation, started with the Father’s beloved Son’s baptism, in whom we are also his children.