Solemnity of the Lord’s Baptism (13 Jan. 2019)

The Baptism of Jesus

Luke’s account of the Baptism of Jesus opens with these words in a translation I read recently: “The people were on the tiptoe of expectation, all wondering about John, whether perhaps he was the Messiah” (Lk.3:15).

John had been preaching in the Jordan wilderness; ”Repent and be baptized for the kingdom of God is upon you.” People were flocking to him from Jerusalem, Judaea and the whole Jordan valley to confess their sins and be baptized by him. John made sure that they were not confused about who he was, saying: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but the one who comes after me is mightier than I. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Lk.3:16).

You can imagine John’s surprise when Jesus came to the Jordan, in a crowd of people, to be baptized by him. “Do you come to me?” he asked, “I need rather to be baptized by you.” Jesus insisted that John should baptize him so that, “all righteousness may be fulfilled.” We know that Jesus was not a sinner so John’s baptism of repentance from sin did not apply to him. What was the righteousness of which Jesus spoke? Everyone, from the people present that day, down to our own time, received the unequivocal theological declaration of who Jesus really is when he was baptized in the Jordan by John the Baptist.

We read in all four evangelists that the heavens opened when Jesus had been baptized and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove and there came a voice from heaven saying: “Thou art my Son, my beloved; on thee my favour rests” (Lk. 3:22). The baptism of Jesus makes it clear for everyone to see that there are three persons in God. God is Trinity!

All of us have turning points in life which we recognise by what follows after the event. The baptism of Jesus was one such turning point for Jesus. Up to then, he had lived a quiet life among his own people for thirty years, but with his baptism, his life changed dramatically. Immediately after his baptism, he spent forty days in the desert, during which he was sorely tempted by the devil. This was a time of transition and reflection before he began his public ministry of proclaiming the kingdom of God, teaching, healing and guiding his people on the path of righteousness. Luke reminds us that Jesus was “armed with the power of the Spirit,” and confirmed in his identity as God’s cherished son.

When Jesus began His public ministry, the people eased down off their tiptoe of expectation, hailing Him as their promised Saviour but, within three years, their mood had changed and they dug their heel into his neck.

Maeve Mc Mahon O.P.

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