“It is I Who Need Baptism”

A Reflection by Fr. Peter for the Baptism of the Lord, Year A.
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7 – Acts 10:34-38 – Matthew 3:13-17.

The Solemnity of the Baptism of Jesus marks the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Ordinary Time. It celebrates Jesus’ passage from His hidden life to that of His public ministry. So, this is another manifestation of Jesus…another epiphaneia … insofar as it announces to the world the divinity of Jesus. Those who witnessed this manifestation were the people along the banks of the river Jordan where John the Baptist was baptising. Today, however, we too can witness in our personal lives the same event in various ways.

In the Gospel (Mt. 3:13-17), Jesus went to John to be baptised. John tried to dissuade him, stressing that “it is I who need baptism from you”. John articulated his concern at Jesus’ request for baptism, reminding Him that the Christ would need no baptism, and therefore He (Jesus) had no need to be baptised. Indeed, John thought that Jesus ought to have been baptising him, rather than the other way around. John’s baptism with water was a call to repentance, in which case baptism would surely not have been appropriate or necessary for the Christ. Jesus, however, corrected him, declaring that baptism was necessary in order to fulfil all that righteousness demanded. Apart from giving mankind an example to follow, His baptism would initiate the beginning of His public ministry. His coming to John to be baptised indicated that the time was ripe for Him “to be about [His] Father’s business” (cf. Lk 2:49). How come the time was ripe?

A new chapter in the history of the Chosen People opened when John started baptising Jewish penitents in the Jordan. Until John’s baptism of repentance, never had it been known for any Jew to submit himself to baptism. Up until that point, baptism had been reserved solely to proselytes (converts from a pagan religion) seeking formal admission to Judaism. Realizing how sinful they were, and how much in need of God’s forgiveness they were, Jewish people of Our Lord’s time sought baptism from John, both as a means of demonstrating their repentance publicly, and also in the hope of being ritually cleansed of their sins. People were hungry for God. People had grown conscious of their need of God as never before. And this was the moment for which Jesus had waited some thirty years. In His baptism, then, Jesus identified Himself with humanity, with everyone who longs for God and with everyone whom He came to save from sin. Jesus identified with each one of them back then and with each one of us now, assuring humanity that our hunger for God would be satisfied, and that our search for God would not be in vain.

How far do we experience this search for God in our lives today? Do we feel able to take the opportunity to reflect on those words of John the Baptist by repeating them in the silence of our hearts? It is I, Lord, who need baptism. For whenever we commit to do this, we discover areas in our relationship with God that require the cleansing of baptism. We discover areas in our dealings with others that require the cleansing of baptism. We discover areas in our own personal lives (things we wouldn’t dream of disclosing to others) that require the healing of baptism. Imagine Jesus coming upon that horrible internal mess, and instead of being horrified, still pleading that He be baptised so that you might be saved. Would you be willing to allow Him to undergo that for you? We are the ones who need to be baptised. We must be able to come to that point of self-condemnation, to realize what our own personal sins are, and to name them. In so doing, we attract God’s commendation.

At this point – repentant, baptised, forgiven and accepted – we might be tempted to boast of being filled with the Holy Spirit. After all, what does it mean to be ‘baptised in the Holy Spirit’, if not by submitting ourselves to being led by the power and promptings of the Spirit? Whenever we do this, we – like Jesus – could hear that voice of commendation from God, and might even be tempted to promote ourselves to being one of God’s favourites! Ah, but the Second Reading (Acts 10:34-38) tells us that God has no favourites. He does accept, however, each and every person who is in awe of Him and does what is right. We truly become beloved of God when we invite His Christ to descend into the river of our lives (of which only we know the depth) to ensure that through His Baptism we too might be cleansed, saved, and assured of eternal happiness. Our invitation to Jesus to descend into the depths of our lives actualizes the best within us, forming strong bonds of faith with each other in the overwhelming awareness that we are one with The Lord Jesus. This is what baptism should mean for us today and every day. Together we pray that today’s Solemnity will cause an eruption of burning desire for God in every citizen of the world. Let such desire burn in you yourself right now! Amen. God bless you.