This weekend, my friends, we jump from events that occurred during the childhood years of Jesus, like his Birth, and his Epiphany where the Magi recognized him as the king of all peoples, to his Baptism, which took place during his adult years. Not much is written in the Scriptures about these in-between years, except his Presentation in the Temple. The Finding of Jesus in the temple also occurs during these “in-between years.”
The readings from Sacred Scripture are appropriate to reflect upon for insights into the significance of the Baptism of the Lord. In the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah, we hear the words, “Here is my servant whom I uphold. My chosen one with whom I am pleased.” In the Gospel reading for today’s Holy Mass, taken from St Luke, the affirmation of Jesus’ loving Father brings home these words, when, at the Baptism of Jesus the Voice from heaven is heard to say, “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.” Isaiah prophesied that the voice would be heard from heaven announcing the “Chosen One.” The prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled at the Baptism of Jesus. This “affirmation” of Jesus was not for His sake, since He knew His identity as is evident at His “Finding in the Temple” when He reminded His Mother that she should have know that He would be in His Father’s house. The affirmation here is for St John and for us for St John to point his disciples to there new master-the Anointed Christ-Jesus, true Son of the Living God.
The second reading from St. Paul to Titus beautifully ties these two readings together by stating that it is by the grace and favor of God, our loving Father, that He gave us His beloved Son, “to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse us for Himself a people as His own, eager to do what is good.”
The Gospel reading explains that St. John the Baptist was in the wilderness, proclaiming a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and telling people what they must do to atone for their sins. Because of his message and actions, people were filled with expectation, asking in their hearts whether St. John might be the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah. St. John clarified any question they might have had about his identity by comparing his Baptism with the Baptism that Christ would inaugurate. St. John baptized with water, but when the Christ comes, He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. St. John knew his baptism only removed sin; it did not give any inner grace or strength to the recipient to overcome his sinfulness, passed on to us through original sin of Adam and Eve. Since sin entered the world, the balance between Agape and Eros was overturned and we find it near impossible to regain that balance on our strength. This is why we have a leaning or tendency to sin (concupiscence) and use others for our sake. Christ teaches us that we are to live as He did, giving one’s life selflessly to others, for the sake of others. So Christ Jesus, who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and the spiritually cleansing fire of Divine Love, gives those gifts to one baptized, restoring the balance between Agape and Eros. This restoring between Agape (God’s unconditional love for us) and Eros (human love) is excellently described by Pope St. John Paul II in his work: The Theology of the Body. While our first parents were created in original innocence, solitude, unity and nakedness, pure and holy, they discarded God’s gift of self. This is why we now need Baptism and the Sacraments to continuously heal or broken but dignified humanity.
Let’s draw out some implications for ourselves, who have been redeemed through the Holy Baptism of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit brought about through the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. When the effects of original sin were overturned by the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God’s divine love in the waters of Baptism, we have become justified, made righteous in God’s eyes. We became adopted sons and daughters of the Father. We became brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, and therefore the heirs of hope in eternal life.
So, what do we take home with us to reflect upon as we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord Jesus? That God is indeed a loving Father. That He points us to His Son, Jesus, at His Baptism with the Divine Words, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” And we affirm that because Jesus is God, He is able to confer divine gifts through the Holy Sacraments He instituted for us. In the Sacrament of Baptism, He breathes His very life into us, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the fire of His Divine Love. So when each of us was baptized, it is as if God reached down from heaven and cradled us each in his arms and once again spoke those words, “You are my beloved son.” “You are my beloved daughter.” “With you I am well pleased.” He brought us into the very triune love He shares as Father, Son and Holy Spirit and made us His bride, members of His holy Church. Therefore, we have great dignity. He restored the balance between Agape and Eros, overturned by Original Sin, which accounts for our broken, disordered sexuality, but now we have the grace to live upright and holy lives. But, we must participate with that Divine Grace throughout our whole lives. Because of all this, we are heirs in hope of eternal life.
Monsignor Gerry Kobbeman is a retired priest of the Diocese of Rockford. Monsignor has attended numerous Theology of the Body Institute courses, as well as the Theology of the Body & Priestly Identity retreat.