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Summary: We might make the mistake of thinking that Jesus stopped growing in the Spirit at His baptism.

The Baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ 2020

In today’s Gospel the words of John the Baptist could just as well have begun “Jesus, this makes no sense!” He rightly senses at the Jordan River, as he did three months before he was born, when Mary visited his mother Elizabeth, that he is in the presence of the holiest of human beings. John baptized as a sign of repentance of individuals–Jews and non-Jews alike–repentance from their personal sins. But Jesus, like His Mother, Mary, was sinless and did not need to repent. So from the very beginning, the Apostles and the Fathers of the Church were most eager to explain why Jesus came to John for baptism. Like everything Jesus did, His baptism was part of a kind of religious revolution. He was baptized, Matthew tells us here, “to fulfill all righteousness.” In other words, His baptism was the beginning of a new creation--a new civilization if you will–that reached its final fulfillment on Calvary when Jesus cried out, “it is finished.”

We need to remember that Jesus began His life and lived for the first thirty years as an Old Testament Jew. He learned Torah and the psalms and the writings. It appears that He knew at least part of the Book of Isaiah by heart. And He couldn’t have been ignorant of His surroundings. All of Palestine, and the region around it, was in thrall to the Roman emperor, Tiberias, and his governing kings and procurators. Jesus saw the pride and arrogance of the Roman legions and their rulers. He saw the same thing in secular rulers like Herod Antipas, and even in the religious leaders like the Sanhedrin. Moreover, He observed that even in the Jewish scribes and the group called the “separated ones”, the Pharisees, there was pride, even hubris, and an unsettled greed. This pride and greed made the powerless, the poor, not just poor, but destitute. The rules that Moses prescribed for God’s people were simply not being carried out. It was a situation that forty years later would erupt in a general revolt against the Romans that ended with the destruction of the Temple and enslavement of the Hebrew people.

The other thing to remember is that Jesus was a divine person with both divine and human nature. His human nature, as St. Luke so wonderfully put it, “grew in wisdom and stature and grace (favor) with God and man.” So Jesus came to the Jordan as part of His maturation, to show His solidarity with weak and sinful humanity, and to receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit that began His public ministry. And He received it, for as He came up from the baptismal pool He saw the Holy Spirit–the Spirit of Love between the Son and the Father–descending like the dove of recreation sent to Noah after the flood. And He heard the voice of His Father telling Him of that Love, using the words first spoken to Isaiah: “Thou art my Son, my Beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”

We might make the mistake of thinking that Jesus stopped growing about that time. Not at all. We see in all three Synoptic Gospels that His next journey was driven by the Spirit. He was driven into a deserted place, probably near the town of Jericho, for a forty day fast and prayer. It would be a foundational period in the task of “fulfilling all righteousness,” toward His own completion as prophet, priest and king. He determined in communion with the Father that the great sins, especially of pride and greed, and the selfishness that stems from original sin, shackle both individuals and society. And He also found His preaching voice and His message. Human weakness and evil could not be fixed from outside. It had to be changed by an inner transformation that is impossible for humans to achieve on their own. He knew from that time that His ultimate destination was Calvary and the tomb, so that He might rise from the dead and become the great Sacrament of human salvation. By our own baptism, and our celebration of the Paschal feast through Holy Communion in His own Body and Blood, we become one with Christ and united to each other. Then, filled with the Holy Spirit, we can lead the life He preached in the Beatitudes.

Instead of greed, Jesus preached poverty. It is clear, even to the student of economics, that there is enough food, territory for agriculture, and resources for manufacture, so that everyone on earth can live with the necessities of life. But greed in our hearts drives us to strive for more and more stuff. We confuse “need” with “want” and of course our wants are insatiable. So some live in comfort while the poor become destitute. Thus the poor can be blessed, because they are living as Christ intended, and share the riches of the earth so that all have what they need.

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