Summary: In Baptism, we become, like Jesus, prophets, priests and leaders for our world.
Feast of the Lord’s Baptism
January 11, 2009
“Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan.” Why? Was Jesus a sinner? And what does this event, which we celebrate every year, mean to you and me the other 364 days of this year?
To better understand the meaning of Jesus’s baptism, we need to remind ourselves of what Jesus said about His baptism in chapter 10 of Mark’s Gospel: John and James have shared with Jesus their desire to be His right and left hand men. He tells them: You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”
39 They said to him, “We can.” Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.
We know what the cup was, and is. It is the chalice of suffering. Jesus prayed in the Garden that the cup could pass away, but concluded that it was more important that the Father’s will be done. The baptism of Jesus was a baptism of service, of prayer, and of sacrifice.
If you look up the word baptos in a Greek dictionary, you see that the common meaning of the word was, in early times, “dipped into dye.” When you soak a cloth in a natural coloring agent, the red or purple or blue colors literally soak through the fibers. Every part of the cloth is suffused with the coloring agent. Baptism, then, means a kind of soaking in Jesus. In South Texas we might say that our baptism marinates us in Jesus. Jesus is supposed to soak into every corner of our spirits, souls and bodies. Nothing is left out.
So what we are privileged to do every Saturday out in our baptistry is not just a washing of a baby’s forehead. What the pastor does in the name of Jesus every Easter Vigil is not just a symbol of change. Baptism really effects a change in the children and adults we pour water over while uttering the sacred words “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ soaks the baptized with Himself. We, in a real sense, become Christ.
Jesus didn’t need to be baptized for Himself. He was sinless, like His mother, Mary. He always did the Father’s will. When he came down to the Jordan to be baptized, he did so within a few feet of the crossing of the Jordan by the first Jesus, Joshua, son of Nun. There, thousands of years before, the people of Israel, led by the Ark of the Covenant, crossed bareshod into the Promised Land. Jesus, son of Mary, soaked his head and feet in the Jordan to change the very meaning and effect of baptism. Instead of just being a baptism of repentance–Jesus didn’t need to repent–the ritual became a sacramental immersion and incorporation into Jesus Christ Himself, a participation in His passion, death and resurrection. From that moment on, it was not John who baptized, but Jesus, and His baptism would be baptism with the Spirit of God.
That’s how you and I have been soaked. Moreover, that’s how you and I have been marked, dyed with the Holy Spirit. Our baptismal charism is supposed to make us stand out in a crowd, like a woman with a big red hat, or a man in a Santa Claus suit. I know that many Christians, maybe even some of you, try to keep a low profile, to avoid offending the thought police and the aggressive atheists. The great saints are pretty clear here, and intimate that we’d better act in accordance with our baptismal character here on earth, because that character shines out like a neon sign in hell, and warrants special torture for those who bear it.
Along with that baptismal character comes our triple anointing. Like Jesus, at our baptism, we are anointed as prophets, priests and kings, or leaders. And that leads me to ask again, “what does our baptism mean the rest of the year, starting right after Mass?”
Prophets are those who speak for God, who spread the Word of God. It’s pretty obvious how our lectors and clerics speak the Word of God. But we are all called to be prophets. At Mass, we speak the Word of God by responding to the invitations to pray, by singing the Kyrie and Gloria and Sanctus and Agnus Dei. These are words right from Scripture. But during the rest of the week, we have opportunities to prophesy. How about the conversation around the water coolers and locker rooms at our workplaces? Do we speak up in defense of clean language and in offense against blasphemy and gossip? When a friend or coworker loses a friend or relative, do we show the compassionate face of Christ–not with platitudes about God needing the deceased more than we do (what does God need, after all?) But with our presence and prayers and hugs. When one of atheist Catherine Fahringer’s successors writes to the newspaper with some calumny against God or faith, do we respond, in charity, to clarify the misrepresentations?