Baptism of the Lord • First Sunday in Ordinary Time

The episode of baptism is certainly historical. But we are interested mostly in its salvific meaning and, more particularly, in the significance it holds in relation to our baptism.
Roberto Sayalero Sanz Pastoral | 2019 Jan 13

Today's feast connects the period of the hidden life of Jesus with his public ministry. It is, in fact, his investiture as the Messiah. For the world to believe that his Word was in our midst, the Father made his voice heard from heaven; with the Spirit that alighted on him as a dove, the Father consecrated his Servant "with a priestly, prophetic and royal anointing”, so that men could recognize in him their Messiah, sent to bring the good news to the poor" (preface).

Jesus is proclaimed "beloved son" and upon him rests the Spirit that invests him with the mission of prophet (announcement of the message of salvation), priest (the only sacrifice acceptable to the Father), and king (the expected messiah as savior). It is not possible to talk about Jesus without, at the same time, talking about the Father and the Holy Spirit; Jesus' public action is rooted in obedience and adherence to the Father.

Today's liturgy emphasizes the Christological dimension -baptism as "epiphany" (manifestation of the mystery of Jesus)- and the ecclesiological-spiritual dimension (the baptism of Jesus as the prototype of our baptism). Saint Luke firmly thinks that in Jesus, as the Messiah, there is a special presence of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit permeates, therefore, the life of Jesus. Likewise, the Holy Spirit must also flourish in the life of the Church (Lk 4; 10-12). Luke recalls that "while Jesus was praying", heaven opened. The divine manifestation is, then, a response to the prayer of Jesus. And, in turn, Jesus will exhort his followers to ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit. It is in a climate of prayer that the Spirit will make himself present.

With the background of Isaiah in perspective (first reading), today’s gospel tells us that in baptism Christ was declared Son of God, with a salvific mission to accomplish  as the Servant of Yahweh. The Servant of Yahweh bears on his shoulders the sins of the people. In Christ, whom we see submitting himself to a public act of penance -confession of sins and baptism- we appreciate the solidarity of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit with our history. Jesus does not mark distance from a sinful humanity; He is a man with his fellow men; incorporated to a sinful humanity, he becomes one with it, although he is not a sinner. He need not confess his sins, but offers forgiveness to those who do so.

The Servant is summoned to a universal mission. There is no love of God (not even God's love for Christ) that is not "for all". And the Spirit of God rests on the Servant. This gift of the Spirit is not simply a fact of divine presence and friendship. It is the sign of the arrival of God's action that creates, renews and transforms man: it takes away the sin that man does not know how to get rid of. This is the difference between the baptism of John (in the water) and the baptism of Christ (in the Spirit and in fire).

When Jesus submits to the penitential rite of the Baptist, he glimpses his painful death and testifies to the suffering he will have to undergo for our sins: the announcement of the Paschal Mystery, which is not only a mystery of pain and death but, above all, a mystery of glory and glorification. The baptism we receive in the name of Christ incorporates us into the Family of God, it is a new birth. Here are the elements of Christian baptism:  gift of the Spirit, divine filiation, forgiveness of sins, mission to accomplish.

For every believer, his baptism must be constantly remembered as a "transformation" that the Holy Spirit operates in him, in order to turn each one of us, following the example of Christ, into "servants" of Yahweh, at the service of others in love and in suffering, up to the point of self-sacrifice. Christian baptism thus appears as a "consecration" of love to God and to our fellow men. We are therefore authentic witnesses of Christ and of the Holy Spirit, spilled over into the Church. Thus the need to renew and revive our baptismal promises.

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