10/01. The Baptism of the Lord
Theme: Jesus brings justice and divine life to the nations. As his baptised family, we seek the kingdom of God through justice and peace. [Two sets of readings are options to choose from. These below are from Year C.]
First Reading: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
He will feed his flock like a shepherd
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.
Second Reading: Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7
Purified through the water of rebirth and renewal
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Gospel: Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
The Baptist points to Jesus the Saviour, whom God calls “my Son, the Beloved”
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Having a clear purpose in life
During a pilgrimages to the Holy Land I and some friends stood up to our knees in the river Jordan, to renew the promises of our baptism. It was a moving experience as we remembered the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus just after HIS baptism. By being baptised into him we are counted as members of God’s beloved family. United with Jesus, we are made like him, God’s own daughters and sons. Others who stood that day in the Jordan will remember that moment today and use it to renew their commitment to Jesus. But all of us were baptised somewhere, sometime, and we can claim that baptism fully as our own.
Our Lord’s baptism is a vital moment in our story of salvation, where he joined with humanity in the humble outreach to God, and where the Father and the Spirit are seen and heard to be there with him. Our gospel says that “the heavens were opened,” a powerful statement of the point of contact between heaven and earth. Later on, as Jesus completes his life-journey on Calvary, we read how “the veil of the Temple was rent in two,” a symbol that we are not completely free to enter the Holy of Holies. Today’s gospel has Jesus beginning a journey which each of us is asked to travel. It is a journey full of purpose, a journey of intent. We need a sense of purpose and pattern to our living. St Peter summarised the purpose and pattern of Christ’s life when he said, “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” We are each invited, personally, to make this purpose our own.
A little story about finding direction: A Dubliner was down the country travelling along by-roads where the signposts were few and far between. After a while, unsure of his directions, he decided to ask the first person he saw. When he came across a farmer driving his cows home for milking he stopped the car and asked if he was on the right road to Mallow. The farmer told him that he certainly was on the Mallow road. The driver thanked him and was about to move forward when the farmer added, in a nonchalant way, “You’re on the right road, but you’re going in the wrong direction!’ Let’s look into our own lifestyle today, to see if our direction is right.
The sacrament I most like celebrating is the sacrament of baptism. It is always such a happy occasion when a child’s birth is publicly celebrated and cheered, and here they are received into a larger family, the family of the church. In being received into our church-family, these children become our brothers and sisters in the Lord, sons and daughters of God, and temples of the Spirit. The joy of faith and hope is palpable, especially when the parents and godparents come up to the baptismal font and the water is poured over the head of the child by the celebrant. Each child is anointed before and after baptism with special oil of catechumens and the oil of chrism; the baptismal shawl is placed around the child and the baptismal candle is lit. The whole occasion is uplifting in a way that is unique to that sacrament.
Of course, the majority of baptisms are of children, who are oblivious to what is happening around them. A big decision is being made on their behalf without their knowing anything about it. Yet, just as parents make all kinds of other big decisions for their children without consulting them, so they happily make this significant decision on their behalf. There is a story in the gospels of parents bringing little children to Jesus. When the disciples tried to stop parents doing this, Jesus rebuked his disciples and said to them, ‘let the children come to me and do not stop them, for to such as these the kingdom of God belongs.’ Parents continue to bring their children to Jesus today whenever they present them for baptism, because in baptism they are being baptized into the person of Christ; they become members of his body; Jesus begins to live within them through the Spirit. When parents bring their children for baptism they are making a decision for them that is very much in keeping with the Lord’s desire. ‘Let the children come to me and do not stop them.’
Today we celebrate the feast of the baptism of Jesus. It is a good day to reflect on our own baptism and its significance for us. The day of Jesus’ baptism was a watershed in his life; it was a day of new beginning. On that day he began his public ministry during which he gave himself fully in the service of God and all of God’s people. On that day Jesus launched forth as the one who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. As he set out on that momentous journey for all of us, he was assured of God his Father’s favour, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you’, and he was empowered by the Holy Spirit, who descended upon him like a dove.
Even though Jesus was baptised by John as an adult and we received Christian baptism as children, our baptism was also a day of new beginning for us. On that day we were launched on the great adventure of becoming disciples of Jesus in our own time. On that day, we too were given an assurance of God’s love and favour, and we too were empowered by the Holy Spirit for the journey ahead of us. On that day we were caught up into Jesus’ own very special relationship with God and we became a member of Jesus’ family of disciples, the church. It is a moment of grace that has the potential to shape our lives in a very fundamental way, in a way that is in keeping with God’s purpose for our lives.
In a sense we spend the rest of our lives trying to catch up with that day of new beginning. We are baptized as children but it is as adults that we confirm our baptism for ourselves. It is as adults that we say our own adult ‘yes’ to the Lord who said ‘yes’ to us as young children on the day of our baptism. It may be in our late twenties or our thirties or forties or even later that we come to say that ‘yes’ with all our heart and soul and mind. It is often in those mature years that we can hear the call of Isaiah in today’s First Reading, ‘O come to the water all you who are thirsty; Seek the Lord while he is still to be found, call to him while he is still near.’ The Lord keeps calling out to us from the moment of our baptism, and as the Lord declares in that First Reading, ‘the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.’ Our response to the Lord’s call, the Lord’s word, can be slow in coming, but his call, his word, remains powerfully creative and will in some way or other make of us what God wants for us. [M Hogan]
Called for a mission
Seamus was a young man who couldn’t believe what he had just done. In the middle of the priest’s homily, he suddenly left his wife and children in the pew and walked out. He felt angry inside, so angry that he couldn’t sit still a minute longer. But he had no idea what his anger was about. Rather than embarrass his family further, he walked home from Mass on his own.
That afternoon he talked the matter over with his wife Sue, but neither of them could work out why he felt so angry. So he made an appointment with his priest for the following Tuesday night. Fr Smith suggested: ‘Tell me everything you remember about Sunday morning, starting with all you spoke to when you arrived at church, and everything you can remember about the Mass.’ Seamus outlined all the people he had spoken to, and what was said as best he could remember. But nothing stood out from the conversations which shed light on the source of his anger. He then made a summary of the flow of the Mass up till the gospel. He couldn’t remember which gospel had been read and what it was about.
It’s interesting,’ Fr Smith said, ‘how you remember well the first two readings, but haven’t got a clue about the gospel. So, let me remind you.’ The priest pulled a missal down from the shelf and read the gospel. As Seamus heard the familiar words about John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus, he became aware that he did remember hearing them on Sunday, but it was not till Fr Smith came to the last words of the text that he knew what his anger was about:
And a voice spoke from heaven,
‘You are my Son, the one whom I love;
I am very pleased with you.’
‘That’s what I always wanted to hear from my father,’ Seamus said bitterly, ‘and now it’s too late, because he’s dead.’ Tears came to his eyes as he let himself feel for the first time the deep hurt he had been carrying for far too long. ‘Perhaps there is something you can do about it,’ Fr Smith replied. ‘Let’s pretend that your dad is sitting right here in this chair.’ He pulled an empty chair over and placed it in front of Seamus. ‘Tell him how you feel. Don’t leave anything out.’
Seamus stumbled over his words at first, but after a few moments he spoke passionately, pouring out everything he wanted to say to his father. When he was finished, Fr Smith looked at him and said, ‘What do you think your father would say to all that?’ John thought for a minute and then he replied: I think he would say what he used to say when I was upset and afraid as a child. He would pick me up, give me a big bear hug, and say: “Seamus, I love you. There’s nothing to worry about. That’s my boy”. When he left Fr Smith’s office, he felt that a heavy load had dropped from his shoulders. For the first time since his father died, he felt at peace.
There are times in our lives when we need our parents, or some significant other to re-assure and encourage us, someone to tell us who we are, why we matter, and why they have high hopes for us. The time came in the life of Jesus when he too needed re-assurance and encouragement to find a new direction in his life. It happened at his baptism by John in the Jordan River. What happened is cast in dramatic language. From the open heavens the comforting and empowering Holy Spirit came down on him like a dove. A voice from heaven spoke: ‘You are my Son the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’
It’s after this experience of hearing God speaking to him on the banks of the Jordan River, that Jesus understands that the time has come for him to begin his work on earth as God’s Son and Servant. The words of the prophet Isaiah, heard in the First Reading, come to Jesus. “’Console my people, console them,’ says your God.” It’s as though Jesus has just heard God the Father say to him: ‘I have chosen you for this mission of Good Shepherd. Go to my people. Tell them that I love them. Show them that I love them. Gather them together and bring them back to me.’ Now that he knew what was expected of him there would be no holding back. As we heard in our Second Reading: ‘He sacrificed himself for us in order to set us free from all wickedness and to purify a people … who would have no ambition except to do good.’ That’s why he laid down his life for others to his very last breath and his last drop of blood.
We too, all of us, are dearly and deeply loved by God. He is our Father too. We are his sons and daughters, made so by our baptism. We are also sisters and brothers of Jesus. We have been joined to his person at our baptism and sent out on the very same mission as Jesus – to show and tell people everywhere just how much God loves them. Can we re-open our hearts to God as persons called and sent, as people on a mission? Can we hear him saying to us those words spoken to Jesus: ‘I have chosen you for this mission. Go to my people. Tell them that I love them. Show them that I love them. Bring them back to me?’ Brian Gleeson