Reflection for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (Cycle C)
In today’s readings we are given the story of the Baptism of the Lord, a beloved Christological tale of the transitioning from the “repentance movement” of John the Baptizer to the “kingdom proclamation” of Jesus the Healer. Though in most ways, this story may be interpreted with the general theological understanding of the need for immediate contrition in the light of God’s coming, it is also in some ways, a point of inflection depicting from whose side the initiative for divine reconciliation is emanating.
As for John’s baptism, “I baptize you with water” is basically a symbolic act. It is an outward expression of an interior disposition, a realization of a decision to seek renewal and reconciliation. It is the person who acts towards this reconciliation, bearing the hope for a divine response.
Though the Nazarene prophet has never been documented to have performed a similar baptism during his ministry on earth, the evangelist declares through John, that “he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire,” a baptism that is believed to be a moment of human transubstantiation. In this baptism, though the form of our embodied spirit remains, we are literally inflamed and changed from an inconsequential to a consequential substance, from an ordinary to an extraordinary existence. Hence, we pray, “When you send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.”
Christ’s baptism is thus, the definitive giving of the gift of salvation, a channeling of grace from without which flows and dwells within. It is the actualization of a divine will to grant forgiveness and reconciliation. It is God who acts first, bearing the certainty of the hope for divine love and mercy. Jesus’ own initiation through the baptism of John is necessary to provide the continuity from the symbolic to the definitive. His act did not in any way, cancel nor supersede the need for a person to be contrite, rather it fully complements it: His baptism makes us aware that our sincerity to draw nearer to God, has already been met with the epiphany of the Holy Trinity who is in the “here” and “now.” The Baptism of our Lord is the celebration of supplications that have already been heard, of questions that have already been answered, of Transcendence finally revealed. In other words, God is truly with and among us.
If we are truthful to ourselves, then our efforts of reaching out in ascending to God, will surely be met with the efforts of God reaching out in descending to us. In fact, even if we are negligent, God will continue to care; even if we are unfaithful, God will continue to be faithful; even if we are disobedient, God will continue to seek and bring back. This is the God of both the deserving and undeserving, “bringing salvation to all,” declaring our “time of bondage is at an end,” and that our “guilt has been paid for.” This is the God of both corrective and mediating action, he who straightens what is crooked and smoothens what is rough; who raises the humble and brings down the proud.
These lessons describing a pro-active Spirit has implications for our Christian way of life. How must we then face such a God, if not with total responsibility? Must we not like the Christ, follow the Spirit in bearing the burden in order to bring comfort; in descending in order to uplift; in paying the cost in order to liberate? May we always remember that total responsibility is the only proper response to a God who acted first, who bears the certainty of the hope of eternal life with him.
Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.
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