THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD YEAR A ON JANUARY 12, 2020 (R. 1: Isaiah 42: 1- 4, 6- 7; Psalm 29: 1- 4, 3, 9- 10; R. 2: Acts. 10: 34- 38; Gospel: Matthew 3: 13- 17)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
GOD SPEAKS AGAIN
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord to mark the end of the Christmas Season and the beginning of the Ordinary Time of the Liturgical Year. The baptism of Jesus has been difficult to understand since the time of the early Christians. The question that John asked in the Gospel passage shows that Jesus’ baptism was problematic even from the time Jesus requested to be baptized. Here, the superior submits himself to the inferior. John had said that the one coming after him was greater than himself, his sandal straps, John would not be able to untie, and he would baptize in the Holy Spirit and fire, yet when he appeared, he came to John for Baptism. John’s baptism called people to repentance and offered a way to the forgiveness of sins. The one receiving it had to admit to having sinned. But if Jesus is God, then he had neither need for repentance nor forgiveness. Why then was Jesus baptized?
Jesus was already 30 years old when he was baptized. Before his baptism, he was faithfully in Nazareth under the parental care of Joseph and Mary, and carrying out the simple duties of the home and the carpenter’s shop. He was silent and away from the public for thirty years, except for when he was twelve years old that he spoke briefly in the Temple. He knew that the world was waiting for him, but he had to wait for the appropriate time to begin his public ministry because the success of any undertaking is determined to a large extent by the timing of it. Jesus knew the time had come as soon as John emerged. He saw the arrival of John as an opportunity to launch his public ministry.
A few words about the English word opportunity: in the days before modern harbors, a ship had to wait for the flood tide before it could make it to the port. The term for this situation in Latin was ob portu, that is, a ship standing over against a port, waiting for the moment when it could ride the turn of the tide to the harbor. The English word opportunity is derived from this original meaning. The Captain and the crew were ready and waiting for it, that one moment, for they knew that if they missed it, they would have to wait for another time to come in.
Why did Jesus wait for this opportunity? Before this time, the Jews used baptism for proselytes who came from other religions to Judaism since they were “sin-stained” and “polluted.” The Jews themselves felt that they did not need baptism. As children of Abraham, they saw themselves as sinless and were assured of salvation. When John arrived, for the first time in their national history, they realized their sins and their need for God. It was for this moment that Jesus had been waiting, a period when human beings became conscious of their sin and their need of God as never before. If you want people to appreciate your food, feed them when they are hungry. This was his opportunity and through his baptism, he identified himself with the people he came to save at the moment of their new consciousness of their sin and their search for God. From the very start of his public life, he wanted to identify with sinners, to share in their slavery, then to lead them to freedom. So, he was baptized because of the same reason for which he became a human being, that is, to identify Himself with sinful humanity and to save humanity. Isaiah foretold that he would be “numbered with the transgressors.” Christ was not baptized as a private person but as a representative of sinful humanity, even though he had no sin.
He went into the water, known to many, only as the son of Mary; he came out of the water ready to reveal his identity from all eternity as the Son of God. He went in, not to be sanctified by the water, but to sanctify the water in preparation for our baptisms. His baptism marked the beginning of a special journey, a journey characterized by “forward ever, backward never,” the journey from the Jordan to Jerusalem, the journey from the water to the Cross, the journey from the baptism by water to the baptism by blood.
Three mysterious events surround the baptism of Jesus: the heavens opened, the Spirit of God descended like a dove, and a voice spoke from heaven. The opening of the heavens refers to the prophecy in Isaiah 63: 15- 19, and 64: 1ff where the prophet asked God to open the heavens, that is to end His silence and once again be close to his people. He pleaded with God to open up his heart and to be once more the friend of humankind. By using this image, Matthew tells us that the beginning of the public life of Jesus marked the start of the reconciliation between heaven and earth, between God and human beings. This reconciliation will be best expressed by the Cross which is an image of vertical reconciliation and horizontal reconciliation, meaning that in Christ, heaven is wedded to earth, and human beings are reconciled with one another.
The image of the dove recalls what happened at the time of the flood when heaven was angry with earth, and the flood destroyed the earth. The dove that brought the olive branch to Noah in the ark was the sign of the peace being established once again between heaven and earth. Similarly, the spirit which hovered over the waters at the first creation (Gen. 1:2) now appears at the beginning of a new creation marked by the baptism of Jesus. The voice from heaven is God presenting Jesus as the faithful and beloved “Servant” Isaiah told us about in the first reading.
Jesus waited 30 years to strike at the opportune time. Dearly beloved in Christ, I have no idea what kind of delay you are experiencing in your life. Maybe most of your high school mates are now in college, most of your college classmates now employed, most of your colleagues at work now have their own homes, others are married with children, while you are not. Jesus waited for the divinely appointed time, and since that time, the effect has been irreversible. The delay you are experiencing in God is not denial; God is preparing the best outcome for you. He wants to act at a time that the positive effect will be irreversible. As they say, God’s time is the best.
The Feast of the Baptism of Jesus reminds us of our baptism and our baptismal promises. It calls for stock-taking to see how we are living out our identity as people who have been baptized in the Blessed Trinity. May we be protected from all evil and blessed with divine favors, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.