Do you find Jesus’ baptism confusing or hard to understand? If so, that is not so unusual. Even John the Baptist was disturbed when Jesus came to be baptized. He told him, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” (Mt. 3:14) The people being baptized by John were called to repentance, but Jesus did not need to repent. So why was he baptized? What did baptism signify for him?
A helpful way to understand the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is to reflect on the prayers for this Mass. The prayers for feast days express the mystery being celebrated. Listen again to the Collect for this Mass. Almighty ever-living God, who, when Christ had been baptized in the River Jordan and as the Holy Spirit descended upon him, solemnly declared him your beloved Son, grant that your children by adoption, reborn of water and the Holy Spirit, may always be well pleasing to you.
That prayer has two focal points: Jesus’ identity as God’s beloved Son, and our identity as God’s children by adoption. His baptism wasn’t a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, like it was for everyone else whom John baptized. Rather, it was a revelation of Jesus as God’s beloved Son, and it reminds us that through baptism we are God’s children by adoption.
Jesus’ baptism sealed his identity. Once you know your identity, then your mission is clear. Jesus’ ministry flowed from his baptism, that is, from his identity as God’s beloved Son anointed with the Holy Spirit. In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter connects Jesus’ baptism to his ministry of healing. He said, “You know the word that [God] sent to the Israelites as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ . . . how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil.” (Acts 10:36, 38)
Peter described Jesus’ ministry in practical terms. He said, “[Jesus] went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil.” Often the Church focuses most of its energy on teaching the faith. We are concerned that young people learn the truths of the faith. That is important, but don’t forget that healing was central to his ministry. Peter summed up Jesus’ life, not by referring to his teaching, but to his healing. “He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil.”
It is so important for us to understand Jesus’ identity and mission correctly because we share the same identity and mission. If we only focus on teaching the truths of the faith, but fail to form disciples in his healing mercy, then we are not really being faithful to his identity or ours.
The first disciples experienced his healing together with his teaching. For example, Mary Magdalene was healed of the influence of seven demons (Lk. 8:2), and the disciples saw Jesus drive out evil spirits from many others. They saw lepers cleansed, the lame walk and the blind regain their sight. He washed their feet and graciously forgave them after the resurrection.
Have you experienced these aspects of Jesus’ ministry, or is your journey of faith mostly focused on learning what he taught? Do you think of a disciple as someone who knows the truths of the Catholic faith, or as someone who has experienced his power to heal, forgive, drive out evil and raise from the dead, and also who lives by the truth of his teaching?
It is important for us to understand Jesus’ identity and mission correctly because by our baptism we share the same identity and mission. If we only focus on teaching the truth of the faith, but fail to form disciples in his healing mercy, then we are not really being faithful to his identity or ours. Then as the Church, we are not being faithful to him.
As we recall Jesus’ baptism, we are reminded of his identity and mission. And we are challenged to live with a similar baptismal identity. Jesus identity as God’s beloved Son was the source of his greatness? He felt total security as God’s beloved Son. That’s why he had the strength to stand alone as he faced death. It made him all-powerful – able to cure the sick and to cast out demons. “He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” (Acts 10:38)
Do you live with a constant sense that God is with you? Instead of living with a sense of “God with us,” we focus on our “distance from God.” So often we base our self-worth on our failures and sins, and we have a poor self-image because of those who criticize us. Or else, we depend too much on the esteem we receive from others.
It does not matter what I think of myself. That is not my true self. Nor does it matter what others think of me, whether they despise me or admire me. The truth of who I am is rooted in how God sees me. Our deepest identity is that we are children of God. At the World Youth Day in Toronto, Pope John Paul II said, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and of our real capacity to become the image of his Son.”
Listen to the words of the prophet Isaiah, who describes Jesus’ identity and ours: “You are my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight. I have put my spirit in you. Thus says the Lord God, who created the heavens and spread them out, who hammered the earth into shape . . . . I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant to the people, a light for the nations.” (Is. 42)
Jesus lived with a keen sense that God was with him, chose him, delighted in him, upheld him and sent him to heal. He lived with a constant sense of the Father’s love. His mission was to bring that grace to others. He was anointed with the Spirit so that he might baptize us in the Fire of the Holy Spirit. Then we will be like him, living inside of God’s mighty presence, and continuing his mission to heal and forgive, suffer like him and walk in eternal life.
By the grace of Baptism, God says to us:
- “You are my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight.
- I have put my spirit in you . . . . I have grasped you by the hand.
- I formed you . . . . and made you a light to the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement.
Our baptism is renewed in every Eucharist. Ask for the grace to be set on fire with God’s love who has chosen you, delights in you and sends you as a light to the nations.