Jesus wants to transform us. Will we let him?

If John’s baptism symbolized repentance, what need could Jesus have had for it? This question troubled many in the first centuries of Christianity. All the synoptic writers use an account of this event to introduce the major themes of their Gospels. The fourth Gospel, meanwhile, leaves it out entirely, recording the encounter between Jesus and John the Baptist but omitting any mention of Jesus’ baptism.


‘He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’ (Lk 3:16)

Liturgical day
The Baptism of the Lord (C)
Is 40:1-11, Ps 104, Ti 2:11-3:7, Lk 3:15-22

In what ways have you encountered the intensity of divine love?

What mission has divine love given you to continue Jesus’ work?

Luke understood the baptism that John offered to be about more than repentance. It was about making a public declaration of citizenship in God’s coming kingdom. A conversion of heart was simply the necessary first step. Life under God’s reign required a new heart and a new spirit, and such a life required a clean break with the past. In Jesus’ case, no conversion was necessary for this public declaration. Baptism revealed instead his true nature as God’s beloved Son.

Such moments of revelation are common in Luke’s Gospel. God’s kingdom comes into view gradually. It appears first to individuals who alone among their neighbors recognize that God’s power is at work in a new way. The obedience of individuals like Elizabeth, Mary and Simeon transforms those around them. Luke uses images like these to show how one transformed individual can renew the lives of countless others.

The baptism of Jesus is one such “small beginning.” It is the first demonstration of the loving relationship that all believers will come to share with God. The divine love revealed at Jesus’ baptism grows clearer at his transfiguration, and its fullness appears in his resurrection. God extended the same divine love at Pentecost to any who took up the Son’s mission, and through sacramental baptism to any who have dedicated themselves to the Son in subsequent ages.

Luke portrays Jesus’ baptism as one of the “advancements in wisdom” that he experienced throughout his life (see Lk 2:52). Luke links Jesus’ baptism closely to his promise at Nazareth to bring glad tidings to the poor and proclaim a year acceptable to God. At his baptism, Jesus experienced divine love with new intensity; he responded to that gift with such fierce passion that his subsequent life and death transformed the world.

This same “spirit and fire” is the inheritance of all Christians. When Christians announce to the world that their life is now under God’s reign, they encounter the same divine love Jesus experienced. In that encounter, Christians find a mission that perfects their own abilities and continues some aspect of Jesus’ work. St. Paul was already a skilled teacher of Jewish law when an encounter with divine love drew him to preach the new way of Christ. Hildegard of Bingen was already an expert composer when divine love inspired her to craft the “Celestial Symphony.”

This same love is available to transform us today. Any who, like Christ, confess themselves publicly to be citizens of God’s kingdom will find in that declaration a love no fear can extinguish. The divine love that renews an individual believer has, within that believer’s response, the power to bring an entire community to new life.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Tim Donovan
1 year 4 months ago

I found it interesting that Jesus was baptized by John, not because he needed to repent (as He was sinless) but to reveal that He was God's beloved Son. I had never really considered that Elizabeth, Mary, and Simeon had transformed others around them by their obedience. Of course, I know that as true God and true man, Jesus as a man who was also divine took on the sins of humanity. Though like any other victim of crucifixion Jesus experienced great pain and death, in His divinity He was able to rise from the dead to bring us the chance for new life in heaven. Many people are transformed by God's love, and one man I believe who was transformed by love was Dr. Bernard Nathanson. Nathanson had his life transformed in at least two ways. As an abortionist in the early 1970's, he was the director of the largest provider of abortions in the western world in a New York city clinic. He killed over 5,000 unborn human beings as a self-described Jewish atheist, but his increased study of biology led him to conclude that abortion was the killing of a new human life. He gradually became an agnostic, and in 1996 he became a Catholic.
In Public Discourse (2/27/11), Robert George wrote about the life and death of Dr. Nathanson. George wrote of how the former abortionist (who many years earlier had even aborted his girlfriend's unborn baby whom he had fathered) was in a sense transformed. Nathanson achieved "faith in God and ultimately (belief in ) Catholicism by the moral witness of the believers among his newfound comrades in the struggle for the unborn." Years ago, before Nathanson had converted to our faith ( I believe he was still an agnostic, though he was apparently searching for meaning) I heard him give a speech before a college audience at the University of Delaware. He was very convincing in his well-reasoned arguments against the violence of legal abortion. Abby Johnson is a woman who favored the so-called right to abortion and was the director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Texas. Johnson was transformed from being an "abortion rights" advocate to a pro-life activist after viewing an abortion at the clinic. She is the founder and director of And Then There Were None, a group that helps former abortion center workers find new jobs. According to an article in The Washington Free Beacon (1/24/17), the group has helped 330 abortion clinic workers, including 7 doctors, "walk away from the industry." Johnson stated about her group's work and how other pro-life people felt about it: "A lot of (pro-life) people were skeptical. Some had always thought of workers as the enemy. We were the first to help them escape this life." As an imperfect Catholic, as a young man I tended to see abortion clinic workers as the " enemy. " Two things changed my mind, so in a sense I also was transformed from being someone with some hate in my heart, to having sympathy for those who work to kill the unborn. FIrst, I remembered that I had committed serious sins. Among others, years ago as a Catholic who's gay, I had sex with men. However, I regretted my acts, and received forgiveness and consolation through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Second, my good friend became pregnant at age 17, gave birth as an unwed mother at age 18, but then married my best,friend who was 19 when they got married nine months after their son was born. My friend's older sister had years earlier had an abortion. Although I firmly disagreed with her decision, I didn't have her. In fact, both of us enjoyed frequently helping to care for Michael as he grew up, along with his sister and two brothers. She too, in a sense was transformed by becoming pregnant and unmarried, yet giving birth to her daughter. Please let's all remember the power each one of us has, given to us by Jesus, who transformed death into new life through His resurrection, to reach other people in a positive way.


The latest from america

Each of Luke's accounts highlights aspects of the Spirit’s role in propelling the Christian movement forward after the resurrection.
Jaime L. WatersMay 15, 2020
On this Trinity Sunday, we reflect on the love and connections within the Trinity.
Jaime L. WatersMay 15, 2020
In his farewell, Jesus proclaims that his legacy will persist through his followers and their ability to share the good news.
Jaime L. WatersMay 09, 2020
The Holy Spirit sustains all of us who love one another.
Jaime L. WatersMay 01, 2020