Introduction: a strange way of presenting yourself.
The narration of the baptism of Jesus, taken today from the evangelist Mark, shows that from the beginning of his public life the Son of God presented himself not boasting of his heavenly origins but following the path of abasement and humility.
Thirty-year-old Jesus began his public ministry by going to the Jordan to receive from John the baptism of penance and conversion. What happened there is humanly paradoxical. John the Baptist was amazed when he saw Jesus who in line with sinners was coming to be baptized. Recognizing in him the Messiah, the Holy One of God and the one who is without sin, John manifests his bewilderment. He himself, the baptizer would have liked to be baptized by Christ, but the Son of God exhorted him not to resist and to accept to carry out this act to do what was necessary to “fulfill all justice”. But then: “Does the Son of God need penance and conversion?” Certainly not. However, the one who is without sin places himself among sinners to be baptized and to perform this gesture of penance.
The Holy One of God joins those who recognize their need for forgiveness and ask God for the gift of conversion, that is, the grace to return to him with all their heart to be totally his. It is about the inseparable relationship between mercy and conversion. In this relationship we find on the one hand the free and superabundant gift of salvation and on the other hand our need to change and the recognition of our sin. We can thus obtain the forgiveness through which, with the reconciliation, our freedom approaches Jesus and asks him what to do. God restores our original face to us, far beyond what we can imagine and deserve.
Jesus wants to take the side of sinners, unite with them, and show them God’s closeness. Jesus shows solidarity with us and with our effort of converting so to leave our selfishness and to detach ourselves from our sins. He tells us that, if we accept him in our life, he can elevate us and lead us to the height of God the Father. This solidarity of Jesus is not “made” of mere words and simple intentions. The Son of God truly immersed himself in our human condition. He lived it fully, except for sin, and therefore he can understand its weakness and fragility. For this reason, he has compassion for men, chooses to “suffer with” them and to become penitent with us.
It is the work of God that Jesus wants to accomplish: the divine mission to heal the wounded and the sick, and to take upon himself the sins of the world with the power of humble and generous love.
Thanks to this humble act of love on the part of the Son of God, the heavens open and the Holy Spirit is visibly manifested in the form of a dove while a voice from above expresses the complacency of the Father who recognizes his only Son, the Beloved. It is the true epiphany (= manifestation) of the Most Holy Trinity that testifies to the divinity of Jesus and to his being the promised Messiah, the One whom God sent to free his people so that they may be saved (cf. Is 40: 2).
Thus, it is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that we hear in the first reading of today’s Mass: the Lord God comes with the power to destroy the works of sin and his arms exercise his strength to disarm the devil. However, let us not forget that these arms are the arms stretched out on the cross and that the power of Christ is the power of the One who suffers for us. It is the loving power of God, different from the violent power of the world. God comes with a fatherly power that destroys sin and transfigures the sinner.
Truly, the Redeemer acts as a true good shepherd who feeds the flock, gathers it so that it is not scatter (cf. Is 40,10-11) and offers his life so that it may have life. It is through his redemptive death that man is freed from the dominion of sin and is reconciled with the Father. It is through his resurrection that man is saved from eternal death and made victorious over the devil.
1) The Baptism of Jesus and our baptism.
This Sunday we celebrate the fact that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the waters of the Jordan River in the Holy Land. John calls the sinners to be washed in the river before doing penance. Jesus comes to John to be baptized. Did He therefore confessed himself a Sinner? Certainly not.
Then, why Christ, the Innocent, went to the Jordan to be baptized?
We can answer to this question with St. Jerome: “For a threefold reason the Savior was baptized by John. First, because, being born man like others, He must respect the law with justice and humility. Second, to demonstrate with his baptism the effectiveness of John’s baptism. Third to show, by sanctifying the waters of Jordan through the descent of the dove, the advent of the Holy Spirit in the washing of the believers “(Jerome, Commentary on Matthew 1, 3, 13).
Another question arises. Why do we celebrate and live this mystery of the Baptism of Jesus?
To express our gratitude to Jesus. In his Baptism, Christ, the sinless one, assumed all our sins and, showing God’s closeness to man’s path of conversion, made himself in solidarity with us and redeems us. The redemptive value comes from the fact that the innocent Jesus, out of pure love, made himself in solidarity with the guilty and thus transformed their situation from within. In fact, when a catastrophic situation such as that caused by sin is assumed in favor of sinners out of pure love, then this situation is no longer under the sign of opposition to God, but, on the contrary, under that of docility to the love that comes from God (cf. Gal 1,4) and becomes a source of blessing.
This act of extraordinary humility was dictated by the wish to establish a full communion with each one of us, and by the desire to achieve genuine solidarity with us in our human condition.
This act of Jesus anticipated the Cross, the acceptance of death for our sins and those of all humanity. Jesus takes upon his shoulders the burden of guilt of all humanity and begins his mission putting himself in the place of sinners and in the perspective of the cross.
With this act of belittling himself, Jesus wanted to conform totally to the loving plan of God the Father.
If we want to revisit the questions expressed just above in another way “Why, then, did the Father desire this? Why did He sent his only Son into the world as the Lamb to take upon himself the sins of the world (cf. Jn 1:29)? the answer is: to give to humanity the life of God and his spirit of love so that every man can draw from this inexhaustible source of salvation. This is why Christian parents bring their children as soon as possible to the baptismal font, knowing that the life which they have given to them calls for a fullness and a salvation that only God can give. Parents therefore become collaborators of God, transmitting to their children not only physical but also spiritual life.
2) Our baptism.
Certainly Jesus’ baptism was a baptism different from the one we, as children or adults, have received, but not without a profound connection to it. Basically, the whole mystery of Christ in the world can be summed up by the word “baptism”, which in Greek means “immersion”. The Son of God, who from eternity shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit the fullness of life, was “immersed” in our reality of sinners to make us participating to his own life. He became man, was born like us, grew up like us and, on reaching adulthood, manifested his mission which began precisely with the “baptism of conversion” administered by John the Baptist. His first public act, as the Gospels tell us, was to go to the Jordan to receive baptism mingling among repentant sinners. John was naturally reluctant, but Jesus insisted because that was the will of the Father (cf. Mt 3, 13-15).
Finally, to the question “What does it mean for us to live this feast of the Baptism of Jesus?” the answer is “It means to live in the baptism of Jesus up to the point when he has taken everything from each of us and has given us everything.” How does He take all from us? Through our Baptism.
Therefore, since Jesus Christ, the only Son of the Father, was baptized, the sky has been truly open and continues to open, and we can entrust every new life that blossoms or that, already adult, wants to immerse itself in the true God, in the hands of one who is more powerful than the dark powers of evil. This is Baptism: to give back to God what came from him.
Baptism, in fact, is more of a washing and a purification. It is more than becoming part of a community. It is a new birth. It is a new beginning of life. In Baptism we give ourselves over to Christ – he takes us unto himself so that we no longer live for ourselves but through Him, with Him and in Him. We live with Him and thus for others. In Baptism we surrender ourselves, we place our lives in his hands so that we can say with St. Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”
Baptism implies this news: our life now belongs to Christ and no longer to ourselves. For this reason, we are not alone even in death, but we are with Him who lives forever. Greeted by Christ in his love, we are free from fear and we live in and of the love of the One Who is Life.
3) The Baptism of the Author of Baptism.
The Gospel passage, proposed in this Sunday commemorating the baptism of the Lord, opens with two statements by John the Baptist: “After me comes he who is mightier than I” “ I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit “(Mk 1,7-8). The preaching of John the Baptist is encapsulated in the function of drawing attention to Jesus. In its extreme simplicity (see note 1), the story of the baptism of Jesus is full of important meanings.
First: Jesus – in Mark 1: 7-11 – is presented in two dimensions of his mystery: a man from humble beginnings (“came from Nazareth of Galilee”) and the beloved Son of God.
Second: the opening of the heavens, the descent of the Spirit, the heavenly voice, everything converges in indicating that, with the manifestation of Jesus on the banks of the Jordan, the Messianic times begins. The heartfelt invocation of Isaiah 63:19 (“if you would slash the heavens and come down”) has been heard. After remaining closed for a long and silent time, the sky opens, the Spirit is back among the people and the word of the Lord returns to resonate.
In Baptism the movement of Christmas repeats itself: God descends again, enters in each of us, is born in us so that we are born in God, and Christ becomes the center of all Christian life. This is a fact that the consecrated Virgins in the world are called to testify in a particular way.
The consecrated Virgins bring to completion the Christian vocation received in Baptism by accepting their vocation and living being a woman as a complete gift to God.
In the path of their human and spiritual maturity, the consecration in the Ordo Virginum offers them a way to live in fullness their humanity that baptism had grafted into Christ.
In this way of life, they develop a personal originality as a gift for oneself and for others. Their life, totally centered in God, becomes an example of relationship with themselves, with others, with God, in the Church and in each social and cultural context.