Lectionary 64 Gospel: John 1:29-34
Today we begin the annual rhythm of the Sundays of “ordinary time”, the Christmas season having ended this past Monday with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Before launching “into the deep” of the Church year (Luke 5:4) it is worth considering how this important feast teaches us about our own baptism and gives us the momentum to move forward on our Christian journey.
A bit of a liturgical review might help: last Sunday we celebrated the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, a day when the Church recalls the revelation of the infant Lord Jesus to the gentile nations, represented by the magi—foreign astrologers or wise men. Their recognition of the newborn of Bethlehem as the “king of the Jews” and ultimately as the messiah is an anticipation of the future recognition of Jesus as Lord by the gentile nations.
The very next day (due to the way the days of the calendar fall this year) we celebrated the Baptism of the Lord; this marks the moment when our Lord submitted to baptism at the hands of his kinsman John the Baptist, setting an example for us and confirming his complete unity with us in all things except for sin. Today’s gospel records this moment from John’s perspective: “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him…the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit’” (John 1:32-33).
As surely as the Spirit descended upon Jesus and remained with him through his ministry, so too in the waters of baptism we receive the gift of the Spirit and become a dwelling place of the Spirit throughout our lives; as St. Paul says in Romans: “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:5). We also are purified of sins through baptism (both original sin and our own personal sins), and strengthened to resist the allure of sin in the future. Baptism as well makes us members of the Church in that by immersion in the waters sanctified by Christ himself we become members of his living body.
As members of the Body of Christ we are responsible for one another; again St. Paul is the one who popularized this idea through his use of body imagery but it is found implicitly throughout the gospels. Being responsible not only means we must live in a charitable and loving manner, it also means that we have an obligation by virtue of our baptism to share the good news of Christ and the transformation it brings. This missionary vocation that accompanies every baptized Christian, lay and clergy alike, is what the Lord hints at in today’s first reading from Isaiah. There, speaking the word of the Lord, the prophet says: “It is too little, the Lord says, for you to be my servant…I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isa 49:6).
The gospel today reports that John the Baptist said the reason he “came baptizing with water was that [Jesus] might be made known to Israel” (John 1:31). At the beginning of this new year let us remember then, that as much as John was sent forth in his day to make known the coming of Jesus as the savior, so also we are sent forth cleansed in the waters of baptism and fortified to be “a light to the nations” who still long to hear the gospel proclaimed, and to see it authentically lived.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.