Isaiah 42: 1-4, 6-7; Psalm 29:1a and 2, 3ac-4, 3b and 9c-10; Acts 10: 34-38; Matt 3: 13-17.
By Cosmas Okechukwu Ebebe
Today we celebrate the baptism of Jesus. Why baptize a sinless person? Jesus was conceived without sin and remains sinless because sin has no power over him. Jesus himself gives the answer as to why he was baptized in the gospel reading of today. With the baptism of Jesus, the season of Christmas ends. We begin the ordinary time of the Church's year. Though he was sinless, Jesus submitted to baptism to confirm and reinforce his identity and mission as the son of God and savior of the world. In union with Christ, let us ask for the grace of remaining steadfast in our baptismal faith and to bear fruits especially to “bring forth justice to the nations”.
2. God's Message of Love in the Readings of Today
God's message today is love and humility. Out of love for us, Jesus was so humble to receive baptism at the hands of John who earned his title by baptizing. John himself knew that he was not worthy to tie or untie Jesus' sandal. The baptism of Jesus is one of the strong anchorages of the mystery of the incarnation. The act of Jesus submitting to water baptism from his cousin whom he sanctified in the womb during the visit of the Blessed Mother to Elizabeth (Luke 1: 52) challenges the logic of status quo. How can the superior go to the 'inferior' for sanctification? How can repentance be expected from a person who is sinless? John the Baptizer himself objected when Jesus came to him because John who had encountered and recognized him in Mary's womb declared that he rather needed baptism from Jesus. Jesus said, “Let it be so for now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.”( Matt 3: 15)Jesus is the fulfilment of the prophesy of Isaiah, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations” (Isaiah 42: 1-2). Jesus teaches that the mystery of the incarnation is lived in doing the will of God who brings human beings into existence. On a personal note he did not want to be exempted from the ritual practice of the people.
In a disciplined society, every individual is subject to the laws of the nation, starting from the Executive arm to the Law makers, through the Law Enforcement agencies to the ordinary citizens. Jesus, a person of the Holy Trinity of one God the creator belongs to all arms of governance and followership in the society. Jesus is the Head or Chief Executive in governance: He is the Law Giver in Father; He is the Law Enforcement Officer in the Holy Spirit and He is us (Christians) as children of God as ordinary citizens in a society. Jesus is all, through all and in all. HE is the Son of Man, the Redeemer of the world and the Sanctifier of creation yet humbly born of the Virgin Mary and baptized by his kinsman cousin.
The sacrament of baptism creates equality among all the baptized. We are all baptized in Christ who allows himself to be baptized. The seal of division among nations, races, tribes, languages, peoples, etc, is removed through baptism in the one Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. St Peter was led to this fact in the hard way. Being a Jew, he taught the message of salvation was for his people the Jews. He kept faithful to his feelings within the limits of his exposure. Then, God sent him to the house of Cornelius to learn the lesson that there is no partiality in God. Human kind should not be partial or partisan in expressing the love of God. Peter, though he was preaching the word of God was perhaps not convinced that Jews and Gentiles were equal in Jesus Christ. Before he finished his preaching about Jesus Christ who was killed but raised from the dead, the Holy Spirit descended on the household of Cornelius. This was a pure affirmation that the Gentiles are children in the same way the Jews are children of God. He recognized the presence of God and declared that nothing would debar a recipient of the Holy Spirit from water baptism and he baptized the household of Cornelius that day. Those challenging infant baptism as practiced in the Church should note that children were among those baptized in the household of Cornelius. In acknowledging his folly and in gratitude to God he declared:“Truly, I perceive that God shows no partiality but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10: 34). The necessary good fruit of our baptism in Jesus Christ is that we are generous in responding to the grace of God, not making distinctions between “Jews' and “Gentiles”.But who are the Jews and Gentiles in our present day? The thoughts of division among us might arise between kindreds (theirs and ours), our geographical location and theirs; our church denomination and their own church, etc. We must identify the prejudices that lead us into dividing humanity into likes and dislikes, friends and enemies, sons of the soil and others, etc.
The complete identification of Jesus with us in baptism is another page in the unfolding of the incarnation. Jesus became man and being man, he did not count equality with God. He allowed baptism to show us an example. As the year begins, let us identify with God who identifies with us through the incarnation and now through his baptism. In identifying with Jesus, let us identify with one another as sharers in the one baptism. Jesus invites us to be holy by keeping our baptismal vows as children entirely dedicated to him. Let us strive entirely to belong to Jesus and not even to the work we do for Jesus.
3. Take Home: Story told by St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa)
Mother Teresa said, “It happened once, when the Congregation of the Missionary Brothers of Charity was first established, that a young Brother came to me and said, 'Mother, I have a special vocation to work with the lepers. I want to give my life to them, my whole being. Nothing attracts me more than that.' I know for a fact that he truly loved those afflicted with leprosy. I, in turn, answered him, 'I think that you are somewhat wrong, Brother. Our vocation consists in belonging to Jesus. The work is nothing but a means to express our love for him. That is why the work in itself is not important. What is important is for you to belong to Jesus. And he is the one who offers you means to express that belonging.' (Source:“Mother Teresa in Her Own Words”, 1996, p. 117). Her words, “We belong to Jesus” is a love-power-pack for keeps. 'We belong to Jesus' will give answer to our perplexities at moments of conflicting interests.