Reflections on Baptism

Reflections on Baptism

After countless times reading and re-reading the Holy Scripture over nearly the five decades of my ministerial priesthood, only a few days ago, it dawned on me that, alas, we have ignored lots of God’s promises because, at the time we read them, they either did not seem important to us or we were focusing on something that, foolishly, interested and consumed us more than those words of life!

Here is one of those promises: Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my Spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations. (Isaiah 42:1)

Well, today, on the feast of the Lord’s Baptism, the time is right for us to dwell on this promise of the Father to show us: 1) how He is pleased with His Son Jesus; 2) how He shows His Spirit hovering over His Son Jesus and 3) how, anointed by the Holy Spirit, His Son Jesus shall bring forth justice to the nations.

Justice, for the Bible, is the state of being that allows an entity to be and to act according to its nature and the purpose for which it exists. The justice promised us by the Father, through His Son Jesus, must be His most consuming thought and desire since in the seven verses of our reading from the Prophet Isaiah (42:1-4, 6-7). It is mentioned three times!

The justice that the Father has in mind must have a lot to do with order, harmony, peace and abundance of divine blessings. In this context, we should realize that all of God’s promises are made to reestablish justice and all the goodness that was present in creation at the very beginning and whose flow down to us was shut off by sin. Whenever God’s people realize this tragedy affecting them and the entire creation around them, this is the cry that tries to reach heaven: Too long have we been like those you do not rule, who do not bear your name. Oh, that you would rend the sky and come down, with the mountains quaking before you. (Isaiah 63:19)

The narrative about the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist is at the beginning of the Gospel of Mark (1:7-11) as a clear indication that Mark is not interested in writing anything about Jesus’ infancy but, rather, in focusing on his mission. It is the mission of rending the sky that was closed shut by countless sins of foolish humankind so that justice and divine grace may come down, once more, to make us just.

Speaking about his mission, this is what Jesus promises:“Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:51) But, to fulfill this promise and rend the sky open again, the Father did the unthinkable.

For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the justice of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

For me, this is the most shocking passage of the whole Bible: To rend the sky open again and bring forth anew the justice and the goodness that were in creation at the beginning, the Father relies on the obedience of His Son Jesus to attribute to himself all the sins of the whole world across the millennia and, thus, become sin, become the only reality that God hates, so that, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we could become the very justice of God! Incredibly true: in the blood of Christ Jesus we are meant to become God-like, to become pure love.

Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

With a few masterful strokes, Mark presents to us Jesus as the Father’s most obedient servant who, although totally sinless, in solidarity with sinful mankind, lines up with real sinners to receive John’s baptism of water. We should remember that this act of obedience and profound humility is only the first of many other acts of obedience culminating in the ultimate one of embracing the cross.

Yet, it is sufficient to have the heavens torn open and have the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus and, through Jesus, on all humanity. Jesus’ mission has begun; and the Father lets everyone know that He is well pleased with His Son and with all those who, one with His Son, will be open to receive the Holy Spirit from the rent sky.

As John the Baptist announces, Jesus’ mission includes baptizing us with the Holy Spirit. Again, this promise from the Father on the lips of John the Baptist can be easily overlooked or go unappreciated.

The Baptism with the Holy Spirit can happen only after Jesus has shed all his blood on the cross, has handed over the Spirit (John 19:30); in addition to having conquered, in his resurrection, death itself, the scariest consequence of sin, and having shared his Spirit with those who had to continue his mission down the centuries until it would be fully accomplished.

And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (John 20:22-23)

Hopefully, today, we can look at our Baptism in the Lord Jesus from a much clearer perspective and be filled with overwhelming gratitude and awe. Most of us have been baptized as infants. Hence, with sharp regret we must wonder how much divine grace we have missed out on flowing from the rent sky above.

We are part of the new creation established in the blood of Christ. So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

But we might not be ready for the new things to come from the boundless generosity of our Father’s heart. Hence, we cannot lose sight of the fact that we are meant to become the very justice of God. We are called to be pure love as God is pure love. Naturally, such thought scares us as; once again, we might not capitalize on the grace flowing down to us from the heavens torn open.

Therefore, we wonder when, if ever, the Father could say to us: “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter; with you I am well pleased.” But, we ought to keep in mind that we are grafted to Jesus; we are inseparable; hence, for that to happen, we have, simply and trustingly, to continue our mission according to our calling in life, with complete reliance of the Holy Spirit and humble docility to the will of our Father, just as Jesus did.

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