There is something that has pretty much become a tradition this time of year for me; it’s a time when I can pay a bit closer attention to things around my own home, and put some effort into fixing up parts of the house or renovating. There’s something about stripping a room down to its bare walls, and considering how it doesn’t look particularly special, or how it doesn’t reflect the image or taste of the occupants of that room. It looks very plain, very ordinary. But even in the plain and ordinary, it has potential. When we start to apply our own ideas to that room –paint colours or fixtures- it starts to reflect its occupant’s personality. It becomes much more than it appeared to be when it was plain and bland, and just like every other room in the house. It becomes distinct, unique; special.
Today’s Gospel passage is all about potential. As we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, this year we read St. Luke’s account of this very public meeting between St. John the Baptist and Jesus. St. John at this point in his ministry has followers; but he has already stated he is not the Messiah. And then Jesus enters into this scene, mingling with the rest of the crowd at the Jordan – apparently un-noticed, blending in amongst the rest of the people, very ordinary, very plain.
But after this baptism, to those who read and hear and believe, it becomes very clear who Jesus is; He is not someone very ordinary, very plain – He is the Son of God, the Beloved; and this is one of those rare scenes in the Gospels, where we have all Three Persons of the Holy Trinity, apparent and visible as three distinct persons; the voice of the Father, the physical presence of the Son, and the movement of the Holy Spirit. The incredible, unlimited potential of what appeared to be something very ordinary is opened up and unlocked for those who are open to seeing and hearing and believing.
It is important that we look for a moment at something that sometimes causes confusion when we consider Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan by his cousin John.
We understand in the Sacrament of Baptism we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and original sin is wiped away; but the question is often asked, “why would Jesus need Baptism to wipe away original sin?”
It’s important to realize the baptism by John was not the same as the Sacrament of Baptism the Church received from Jesus- where we become adopted children of God; John’s baptism of people was symbolic, not sacramental; as he said himself, he baptized with water, not with the Holy Spirit.
The people who came to John were accepting a baptism of repentance; repentance really means desiring to come closer to God, recognizing that as human beings, we are separated from God. This was a public statement. Those attending had water poured over their heads as a public sign of that desire to wash away their earthly attachments (whether that be harmful relationships, material wealth, power, or sin) and to dedicate themselves to growing closer to God.
In this passage from St. Luke, it says “when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying,” it was then that the Holy Spirit descended upon Him! St. Luke is identifying Jesus with the rest of the crowd up to this moment. Jesus is ‘one of us’, unrecognizable by anyone else as something special, until in prayer, when the Spirit descends upon Him and the Father’s voice singles Him out ‘the Beloved’ .
In accepting this baptism from John, Jesus is telling us that he has fully entered into our humanity- our physical separation from God; that in his humanity, He is just like us – he desires to be closer to the Father; and in his humanity, he will set the example of emptying Himself for others; taking all our sin, through His divinity, upon himself; carrying it all the way to the Cross; to bridge that divide for us; a divide that separates us from God- a divide that we made. God does all the work, in the person of Jesus – and we receive the rewards.
How could we not respond in love to that? How could we not want to desire to move more deeply into relationship with God, who goes to that extent for us? How could we not be open to seeing that same gift is offered to every person in our parish, our community, our planet?
Today’s Gospel reminds us of the tremendous potential that each one of us possesses; that as Jesus identified with us in our humanity, we can now begin to identify with Him in His divinity, becoming adopted children of God through our own Baptism; and because of this, God says to each one of us; “you are my son…you are my daughter…you are my child, my beloved – with whom I am well pleased” It’s an invitation; to live out that potential ourselves, and to recognize that potential in each other.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!