The Baptism of the Lord (Year B)
GOSPEL: Mark 1:7-11IN the course of his preaching John the Baptist said, ‘Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals. I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’It was at this time that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised in the Jordan by John. No sooner had he come up out of the water than he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’
Other Readings Is 42:1-4, 6-7; Acts 10:34-38; Ps 28:1-4, 9-10 Rv.11
THIS year, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord marks the end of the Christmas Season. But aside from marking the end of a liturgical season and signalling the beginning of another one, the baptism of the Lord reminds each and every one of us of the significance of our own baptisms and the nature God’s love towards us.
When I was a first year university student in the Philippines, I would go to the Church inside the campus during my breaks or free times not because I wanted to pray a lot but because it’s the only place in the university I knew at that time that has nice comfortable benches where I could take a nap. But one particular afternoon, I was not able to take my usual spot in the Church because of one lady and another student. The lady had a skin disease called “Neurofibromatosis”, a genetic disorder that disturbs cell growth in your nervous system, causing tumors to form on nerve tissue. Just imagine somebody with a skin like a raspberry.
I heard the lady repeatedly saying: “it’s not contagious” to the student who was clearly trying her best to stay away without being overtly rude to the lady. I left the Church as fast as I could because I did not want to be in the same situation as the student. But even as I walked away at the time—and every time I remember that incident—I could still remember the lady’s words and her expression. “It’s not contagious!” I felt ashamed then and I still feel the same every time a situation reminds me of that time.
But with Jesus undergoing John’s baptism, God was able to express his complete solidarity with our sinful humanity. John’s baptism was a sign of repentance; as we heard from the Gospel “all the people of Jerusalem were going out to John… confessing their sins”. Jesus, the Emmanuel—God with us—did not need to undergo such baptism. He is one of us yet at the same time not one of us: Jesus is the Son of God, the one whose identity is completely other; the one who is completely uncontaminated, completely clean, or in the vocabulary of the Old Testament: one who is HOLY.
But in this act of being baptised as one of the sinners—this act of solidarity with the ‘other’, Jesus was able to bring about a massive transformation of our identity that has been distorted, fragmented, and indeed contaminated by sin. Unlike, what the student—and myself—failed to do back then with the lady with the skin disease, Jesus, in his baptism, embraces willingly, readily and unreservedly our humanity so that through him we can share his divinity; the sinful people now transformed into the image and likeness of God.
The baptism of the Lord is one of the manifestations that show us that God has grafted himself onto human history in the most intimate of ways. Moreover, the baptism by John; the baptism that signify repentance changed dramatically when Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan. It now becomes not just a sign of repentance for sins but a sign that one is washed clean of all sin. Indeed the baptism of the Lord shows the nature of God’s love towards us; how God always the one reaching out for us, seeking solidarity with us.
We on the other hand, seem to tend to keep running away from God just as we tend to run away from each other—just like the two university students did to the poor lady in the Church; just like many atheists who were raised in the Christian faith who now want to obtain “Certificates of De-Baptism.” If only we truly realise what we’re running away from; what baptism gives us.
As the reading from the Acts of the Apostles makes clear, all human beings, all of us, are invited to become Jesus’ brothers and sisters, God’s sons and daughters. Our baptism gives us the great, unwarranted gift; the chance of God saying to each one of us: “You are my Son; you are my Daughter, the beloved; my favour rests on you.” ###