Sunday 11th January. The Baptism of the Lord
Click for Fr. Kieran O’Mahony’s very useful Scriptural Notes on today’s readings about the Lord’s Baptism.
1st Reading: Isaiah 55:1-11
Come to the waters, come buy and eat!
Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.
Seek the LORD while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
2nd Reading: 1 John 5:1-9
About love and faith, and the witness that God has given to his Son
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God,
and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know
that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.
For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his
commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers
the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.
Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus
is the Son of God? This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus
Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood.
And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.
There are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood,
and these three agree. If we receive human testimony, the testimony
of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified
to his Son.
Gospel: Mark 1:7-11
Jesus receives John’s baptism. The Father says, “You are my Son” and the Spirit rests on him
He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming
after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his
sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with
the Holy Spirit.”
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized
by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water,
he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove
on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved;
with you I am well pleased.”
A clear purpose in life
I’ve had the privilege of leading several pilgrimages to the Holy Land. One of the highlights is a communal immersion up to our knees in the river Jordan, to renew the promises of our baptism. It is a moving experience when one recalls the Spirit descending, and the Father confirming each of us as his son or daughter. Many of those who experienced it remember that moment with great emotion, and use it to renew their commitment.
The baptism of Jesus is a moment of special grace in our story of salvation. Not only did he join us in our sinful state, but the Father and the Spirit are seen and heard to be there with him. The gospel uses the simple phrase that “the heavens were opened,” but it is a powerful statement. Later on, when Jesus completed his life-journey on Calvary, we read how “the veil of the Temple was rent in two.” Now at last we were free to enter the Holy of Holies. Today’s gospel is the beginning of a journey, which, through our own baptism, each of us is asked to travel. It is a journey full of purpose.
Each of us needs a sense of purpose and pattern to our Christian living. When I set out on a journey I need to have a definite idea of where I intend going, and how to make the journey. 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 invited to make his purpose our own.
A man 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!’
Thoughts on Baptism
The sacrament I like celebrating the most is the sacrament of baptism. It is always a happy occasion. A young child has recently been received into their family with great joy and celebration, and now they are being received again into another family, the family of the church. In being received into this family, the children become our brothers and sisters in the Lord, sons and daughters of God, and temples of the Spirit. The joy of the occasion 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, the 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 somehow uplifting in a way that is unique to that sacrament.
The vast majority of our baptisms are of children. They are oblivious to all that 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 parents are happy to make this particular 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 life a dove. Even though Jesus received the baptism of 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, like Jesus, were given an assurance of God’s love and favour, and we too were empowered by the Holy Spirit for the journey that lay before 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 momentous occasion 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. [Martin Hogan]