There is a ’static’ way of considering the Baptism of the Lord, particularly in art and in liturgical story-telling. In these forms the Baptism is looked at or read as a story complete in itself. But the Gospel-writers, for all their differences in describing the event of Jesus’ baptism, intended that their stories be understood in relation to the rest of their Gospels. To look at the Baptism stories in this ’dynamic’ way gives rise to the following conclusions. We are face to face with a major experience of Jesus: as a result of this experience, Jesus will change the direction and tenor of his entire life. He had not lived this life for thirty years; now he changes dramatically, and totally, for this new life will bring him a very ugly death. Two major characters in the story are the Spirit and the Father (the Voice from above). Jesus will now be moved or guided by the Spirit; the Spirit should be understood to play a directive role in the entire subsequent story of Jesus’ life. This guidance from the Spirit is an element of every Christian life after Baptism, and finds its beginning here in Jesus’ experience. The second figure of the story, that of the Voice or the Father, serves to identify Jesus (whom all four Gospels had already identified as divine) as his obedient son. It is this willingness to obey that will characterize the decisions Jesus will make his entire life; the willingness to obey, expressed here will be re-affirmed in the Garden when Jesus will once again explicitly cry that he prefers the Father’s will to his own. Thus, while the story of the Baptism of the Lord can be appreciated or depicted on its own, it is valuable to realize that the story is a gate-way to the entire public life of Jesus, and serves to highlight the core meaning of every person’s baptism, the assurance of the Holy Spirit’s guidance and the desire to obey, in all decisions, the will of the Father.
John Kilgallen, SJ