The Baptism of the Lord

Nothing less than pivotal is the baptism of Jesus. Matthew, our Gospel writer of Sunday, tells us nothing about Jesus after the notice that the Holy Family settled in Nazareth – nothing till this moment when Jesus seeks baptism from John. Lest this ’turning to John’ for a religious act seem unsuitable to Christians who believe Jesus is greater than John, Matthew makes the point very clear that Jesus is Lord, as the Christians said in their baptisms. And if there is nothing useful for his story for the life of Jesus, we can only think that NOW is a most important beginning with which to open the story of Jesus’ public life. Indeed, one should be aware of the enormous change that occurs in the life of Jesus at this baptismal moment. Jesus never returns to life in Nazareth, but begins now a life of fame, of acceptance or rejection, of wonder-working, and of teaching - characteristics of a life heretofore unexperienced by Jesus. His whole world is turned upside down. He may remain the same, but his world and daily life do not. Two elements of the story are key to understanding it: the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus and the words of the Voice from Heaven. The picture drawn by Matthew, a description of the descent of the Holy Spirit, is meant to signify that the Holy Spirit now takes up abode as never before. Though conceived through the Spirit, Jesus will now in addition be guided throughout his public life by the Spirit; he will be empowered by the Spirit and led by the Spirit, as Matthew suggests in 4, 1. Jesus’ activities, miracle working, calling disciples and teaching, will be Spirit-inspired. It is this abiding presence of the Spirit in Jesus that helps account for the rest of the story of the adult Jesus. The Voice from heaven is obviously that of God. God seems to speak to the crowd, and for the benefit of the reader; whereas in other Gospels, God says, "You are my son...", in Matthew God says, "This is my son..." Thus, in this Gospel God is revealing the identity of Jesus to others, and a particular identity at that. No doubt, the divinity of Jesus is included in the meaning of God’s word to the public. It repeats in the time of the adult Jesus what had already been revealed in the conception period of Jesus. But what the divine words add is most important for what follows in the rest of Matthew. Jesus, called Son, is called ’beloved’ Son, something of a repetition or seemingly useless addition, for Son seems to surely imply that Jesus is ’beloved’. Many scholars see in this emphasis/addition of ’beloved’ an indication of God’s awareness of the obedience that His Son will exhibit throughout his life. Jesus here then is ’beloved’ because he is united in love with his Father. The Father loves Jesus for his fidelity to his calling, and Jesus manifests his love for his Father by his obedience to his calling. Spirit and calling make up element of baptism of every Christian. Thus, the feast of today speaks not just of Jesus and what makes him ’tick’, but of us who, baptized, also have received the abiding Spirit and His influence upon our thoughts and choices, and a readiness (or so we said at baptism) to fulfill as best we can the roles God has given us for our happiness and for that of so many others. The baptism of the Lord, then, has particular significance for the Gospel. Few stories express, as does this, fundamental characteristics of the Jesus who will be caught up in a whirlwind of activity which will call for explanation – the explanation given in this baptismal story. John Kilgallen, SJ
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10 years ago
Thank you for your wonderful blogily. I have often wondered about the question of "what did He know and when did He know it?" I think it is the great question in Christology. Jesus was fully God, but was he fully self-aware as God. The latter does not appear to be the case in Thessolonians. Rather, he emptied himself and took the form of a slave. Could it be that all Jesus knew about himself came from the scriptures and from the stories told to him by His mother? That would be a sign of tremendous faith, especially in John, who obviously knew who Jesus really was, presumably because they had talked about it previously, perhaps for long periods of time. We have no records of Jesus having been given any signs prior to his baptism. If this were actually the case, how marvelous his example of faith truly is.


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