Baptism of Jesus
09 January 2011
Rev. Bob Scanlan
The date was January 11, 1976. The location was Holy Angels Catholic Church in Aurora, Illinois. The purpose of the gathering on this Sunday was the baptism of our daughter. Family had gathered, the church was full, and we were about to begin. Jean was holding our daughter and like many mothers smelled the diaper. Just what Jean had thought—the diaper was full! In the back of the church was the “confessionals” as the church did not have the “reconciliation rooms” now located in many churches so individuals can receive the sacrament of reconciliation in a “face to face” sacrament with the priest. So Jean took our daughter in the confessional, laid her on the floor and changed her diaper. I have always thought there is theological meaning in that moment—going in to the confessional to get rid of your waste and coming out clean and ready to go! I know there is a book waiting to be written about that concept!
Today we again celebrate the baptism of Jesus. It seems to me, without doing extensive research that this is one of the few times in scripture if not the only time where Jesus goes to another to be ministered to rather than ministering to those who come to him or are brought to him. Today we mark the end of the Christmas Season in the church year and also mark the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus. Jesus begins his public ministry not with a press conference; not with a meeting to announce that he has arrived to save the world as the new King of the Jews as many were looking for but rather Jesus approaches John to be baptized.
John of course was shocked as the Gospel tells us, “I need to be baptized by you and yet you are coming to me?” John was shocked as the purpose of John’s baptism was for the repentance of sins. However the baptism of Jesus was NOT for the repentance of sins but as the Gospel tells us “to fulfill all righteousness”.
Moses led the Israelites from slavery to freedom in their 40 years of wandering to reach the holy land the new beginning. Jesus is the person who will fulfill all righteousness and lead to us to freedom and a new beginning. John’s ministry was a preparation for the ministry of Jesus. One must have a metanoia as St. Paul describes---a change of heart---a time of preparation. We must seek repentance and a change of heart before a fruitful new beginning can be initiated. John is the forerunner and the preparation for Jesus. The time had come, Jesus was a good Jew who knew the Torah and could quote it from memory; he had taught in the temple when he was 12; people marveled at him. Jesus had spent his early years in the Jewish Temple learning and teaching. As a 30 year old young man, Jesus comes forward out of the crowd gathered to begin his public ministry by partaking of the baptism of John. This is a powerful time in the life of Jesus as his ministry was affirmed. “The heavens were opened for him; he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him and a voice was heard saying ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’.”
As John Shea mentions in his commentary, “In contemporary language, “Jesus’ consciousness is awakened to the divine source of his life, a source that gives itself to him in love.” We can look back to the story of Noah’s Ark where the dove returns with the olive branch in its beak—symbolizing the presence of new life and a new beginning. Jesus saw the Spirit of God descending upon him like a dove.
Through our baptism like the baptism of Jesus we are made whole and perfect in the eyes of God. Jesus spent the rest of his adult years preaching to all who would hear him that the Good News of salvation is for all people and each person has been hand chosen by God. Jesus awakens people to the reality that they are whole and complete just the way they are now. As the statement so rightly says, “Wherever you go there you are at.” No one ever becomes “un-baptized” however we each can make the choice to walk away. We can each walk back to the darkness or we can walk into the light; we can stay estranged from God or embrace the presence of God in our life; we can decide to go it alone or to reach out to others in their need and our need; we can say one thing and do another or we can say what we believe and put our actions into practice; we can be self centered or God centered.
At the moment of your conception God called you by name. At your baptism God called out and said, “This is my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” It is my prayer for each one here this morning and for myself that I and you will be able to pull away from the noise and clatter of our lives and hear in the depths of our soul again that familiar voice from God, “You are my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.