Pastoral Reflections

Baptism of Christ – 2017

We celebrated the Epiphany of Jesus last Sunday. When we think of Epiphany we typically think of the wise men visiting the baby Jesus in Bethlehem or perhaps in Nazareth. “Epiphany” means “revelation” so when we celebrated the Epiphany of Jesus we celebrated Jesus being revealed or manifested to the world. At Epiphany last week we especially remembered Jesus being revealed as the light of all nations, since the wise men were Gentiles and not Jews, and had come from far away.

Today we celebrate another epiphany or manifestation of Jesus. This occurred at his baptism, when his heavenly Father spoke and said, “This is my Beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt 3:17)

Following Jesus’ baptism, his epiphany or revelation to the world continues during events at the wedding feast at Cana. St. John the Evangelist recalls for us Jesus’ first public miracle, allowing his glory to be seen by all. According to John, the Cana experience inspired Jesus’ disciples to begin to authentically believe in him (John 2:11).

The Holy Spirit descending on Jesus, in the form of a dove at his baptism, is reflective of an anointing. Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit. In the second reading today, Peter described Jesus’ baptism as an anointing by God with the Holy Spirit and his power (Acts 10:38). The word “Christ” is a Greek word, which means “Anointed” and the word “Messiah” is the Hebrew word, which also translates as the “Anointed One.” Because Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit at his baptism he is the Christ, the Messiah.

In the Old Testament the Temple high priest was anointed prior to taking up his office for the year. The kings of Israel were anointed on the day of their coronation and regarded as being adopted by God as his sons on the day of their coronation. But Jesus is not just adopted as God’s son when he was baptized; he is God’s Son, he is God incarnate, God in the flesh.

While the servant in the first reading (Isa 42:1-7) could be interpreted in a number of different ways, we can certainly understand this narrative as a prophecy of Jesus anointed by the Spirit to open the eyes of the blind and free captives. Part of the preface to the Eucharistic prayer today puts it like this: ‘Your Spirit was seen as a dove, revealing Jesus as your servant, and anointing him with joy as the Christ, sent to bring to the poor the good news of salvation’.

The baptism that John the Baptist administered in the river Jordan was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus was sinless so why did he come to John to be baptized?

We see that John the Baptist was obviously uneasy as he said, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” (Matt 3:14) Jesus wanted to be baptized even though he didn’t need the baptism, because it would be through baptism that everyone would become followers of Jesus. Everything we do in the Church we do because it flows from Jesus.

Each of the seven sacraments flow from Jesus. Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan and taught Nicodemus about the importance of being reborn spiritually (John 3). Jesus said what is born of the flesh is flesh and what is born of the spirit is spirit (John 3:6). Before Jesus ascended into heaven he commanded the apostles to baptize everyone in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19). St. Thomas Aquinas, a philosopher / theologian who lived in the 13th Century, says we could expect that Jesus would have baptized his apostles also (Summa III Q38 A6). This would make sense because baptism is the first of the sacraments and we would expect them to have received baptism before they were ordained priests during the Last Supper.

We receive the Sacrament of Confirmation because it confirms and completes the grace of the Holy Spirit we received at baptism. This is much the same way as Pentecost follows and completes the promise of Easter. Christ was full of the Spirit and before his Ascension promised the apostles an outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost by which they would become his disciples in the fullest sense (Acts 1:8). We see in the early Church that the apostles needed to lay hands on those who had been baptized earlier (Acts 8:14-17).

We celebrate the Eucharist because Jesus gave us the gift of his Body and Blood during the Last Supper and fulfilled his promise on Good Friday. Furthermore, Jesus asked us to proclaim this celebration, telling us to “do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19). We hear that on the road to Emmaus the two disciples listened to Jesus explain the Scriptures, but they only fully recognized him at the breaking of the bread. Hopefully, as we approach Jesus in the Eucharist at Mass, we walk away with the same realization and experience (Luke 24:13-35).

We often ask to have our sins forgiven in the Sacrament of Penance and at every Mass. We do so as we are imperfect followers of Jesus. However, we also do so because on many occasions in the Gospels we see Jesus forgiving the sins of others. Lastly, after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his followers and breathed on them, saying, to them, “Whose sins you forgive they are forgiven and whose sins you retain they are retained.” (John 20:22-23) Thus, all of God’s mercy makes its way to us through Jesus.

When we are seriously ill we ask for the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick because in the Gospels we see that Jesus healed many sick people with the application of personal touch, prayer and such ingredients as earth and saliva. When Jesus sent the apostles out on a mission they anointed many sick people with oil and cured them (Mark 6:13). So, anointing and prayers at a time of significant distress is a way that Jesus touches and heals our hurts.

The love of a man and woman for each other is made holy in the Sacrament of Matrimony. Jesus blessed a wedding at Cana with his presence and his first miracle (2:1-11). Jesus’ presence during the solemnization of a marriage, ensures the viability of that relationship for a lifetime. The letter to the Ephesians says the love between husband and wife is a mirror and reflection of the love of God for us (Eph. 5:32).

We have the gift of an ordained clergy because Jesus, the high priest of the New Covenant, shares his priesthood with those whom he now calls. Jesus first did this during the Last Supper as he prayed to his Father to consecrate the apostles in Spirit and Truth (John 17:17-19). What a gift and grace the Church is to us. It offers us what Jesus himself offered two millennia ago. Jesus didn’t need to be baptized in the Jordan by John the Baptist but since the sacraments and everything we do in the Church come from Jesus, and it would be through baptism that we would become followers of Jesus, so Jesus desired to be baptized also. As we commemorate the baptism of Jesus let us remember that everything we have and do in the Church comes from Jesus. The Church is the Bride of Christ, and where you have Christ’s Bride, there you also have Christ.

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