Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, Year B.
Isaiah 55:1-11 – 1 John 5:1-9 – Mark 1:7-11.
Perhaps you have encountered experiences that turned out to be pivotal in your life. Milestone experiences may have led you to make important decisions, after which your life was never the same again. Those pivotal decisions affect the whole person, don’t they? When they’ve been taken, it’s subsequently rather like entering a new world. When you have gained a new perspective on life, you may well discover new associations and new friends, adopt a new lifestyle, and go forward with firmed-up convictions. To people who know you well, it may look to them as though a new person has been born in place of the old one.
Now, imagine Jesus at 30 years of age. Today’s Solemnity, the Baptism of the Lord, marks an event that was a turning point in the life and the ministry of Our Lord. Why did He wait until He was 30 to begin His public ministry? Well, when he was 12 and had only just come of age, He did attempt to begin His public ministry. He remained behind in the Temple (Lk 2:49) in Jerusalem after the Passover, and His Mother and His foster-father eventually found Him engaging with the teachers and doctors of the Law (His Law!). In His humanity, Jesus was not omniscient, and Our Lady and St. Joseph (who would have been fully aware of His vulnerability to the authorities at that age) persuaded Him to come home, where He continued under their care and protection. For close on thirty years, Our Lord lived in obscurity at Nazareth, where He worked as a carpenter while He waited for the time for His public ministry to begin.
When Jesus was about to begin His public ministry, He went to John the Baptist to be baptised. John was Jesus’ cousin, six months older than Jesus, and was the forerunner of the Messiah (Jn 1:6f; Mt 3:11f). John was the “voice crying in the wilderness” (Is 40:3). Both John’s parents were descended from Aaron (Lk 1:5) and his heritage was Levite, priestly. In the Old Testament, one of the priestly duties was to present sacrifices to God. John was baptising in the Jordan, preparing penitents for the coming of the One who would baptise them with the Holy Spirit and fire (Mt 3:11). John’s preaching and baptism of repentance at the Jordan prepared the people to meet the Christ. Although there was a plethora of redeemer-figures in Palestine at the time, John aroused the expectation of the imminent arrival of the Messiah. Who would it be? When would He come? People started making preparations in readiness for His arrival and were keen to retrace their steps to God. Jesus went to John because it was desirable that He be recognised publicly as the Messiah by His forerunner. John’s baptism of Jesus was a Levitical, priestly presentation of Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice to God.
Jesus identified with sinners in their search for the Messiah. Furthermore, He also knew the necessity of baptism for our salvation. His perfect righteousness fulfilled each and every requirement of the Law, which was way beyond the reach of sinful humanity. His baptism symbolised our baptism into His righteousness, dying with Him and rising with Him – and, in our case, freed from sin, and liberated to walk in newness of life.
And so, He went to the Jordan to be baptised in order to identify with us in our search for Him and to show us the way to find Him. This Solemnity reminds us of our immersion in God, of our search for Him, and of what we have to do to follow His way to get to where He dwells eternally.
With John’s public mission of baptising repentant sinners in the Jordan under way, Jesus knew that the appointed time had come for Him to begin His public ministry. He left his life as a tradesman and went to John to be baptised. John hesitated to baptise Jesus because of His sinlessness. Jesus reassured John that it should be done “to fulfil all righteousness” (Mt 3:15). “For our sake, He made Him to be sin Who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Cor 5:21). With His baptism, the perfect embodiment in one substance of the three Persons of the Godhead were revealed to humanity in the voice of the Father “this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (v.17) and the descent of the Holy Spirit (v.16) upon the Son Who came to seek and save the lost (Lk 19:10). God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – work together in salvation history: the Father “who chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4), and the Son to save us from sin (Mt 1:21) and eternal death (Jn 5:24; 6:44), and the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin ((Jn 16:8) and draws us to the Father (Jn 6:65) through the Son.
His baptism by John was the sign of the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus. He acquired new companions and disciples, His private life became public, and His working life changed to include teaching, preaching, feeding and healing people. From this moment, Jesus’ life on earth was never the same. There was no going back.
Most of us, on looking back over our lives, can see that we have experienced moments that proved to be decisive turning-points. Are we ready to move on, or are we content to remain where we are? Are we going to face up to future challenges or are we going to remain undisturbed in our current lifestyle? Perhaps some of us find ourselves standing at a crossroads, trying to decide which road to take. While it might take some of us longer than others to come to a final decision, in reflecting on our lives in general terms we often discover that some of the tough decisions we made turned out to make us stronger. They made us the people we are today. Similarly, the firm decision that Jesus made to begin His public ministry helped us to make us into who we are in God today: “we are children of God”, as St. John wrote in the Second Reading.
Although He was sinless and had no need of repentance, baptism was for Jesus a turning-point in His life and ministry. Can we say the same about our baptism… that it was a turning-point? Yes, we can! The love of Christ is like a seed planted in our hearts at our baptism. Yet, in our human frailty, we are constantly torn between going our way and doing our own thing, and between going Christ’s way and doing Christ’s will. Remember that on every day of our lives, each one of us encounters opportunities for ‘rebirth’, by which I mean new life energised by faith and salvation (Jas 1:18). Do we seize these opportunities, or do we let them pass us by? To experience continual rebirth, we need to be attentive to the signs and signals of the Messiah (the Christ) in us and around us. We also need to make a firm decision to embrace the Spirit of God inviting us to rebirth, inviting us to “come to the water all you who are thirsty” (Is 55:1). Acceptance of this invitation, coupled with the virtue of perseverance, will give us the strength never to give up despite the challenges we will undoubtedly have to face because of our choice for God. When we accept this invitation, God’s favour rests on us, as it did on Jesus (Mk 1:11). May this Solemnity prompt a rebirth in you and in each one of us. Amen. God bless you.