Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
The first verses of today’s gospel make it clear that the baptism of John is only a preparation for the coming of Jesus. His baptism is in water only, whereas the baptism that Jesus offers is also “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16). This is a reference no doubt to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost which is fully described in Luke’s other book, the Acts of the Apostles (see chapter 2).
Luke’s description of the baptism of Jesus is very similar to that of Matthew and Mark. First of all, the heavens are opened, signaling the end of that centuries-long apparent absence of God. Now that Jesus is on the scene, it is time to initiate that final act in the drama of God’s coming to save his people. The appearance of the dove represents symbolically the advent of a new creation, just as the dove signaled for Noah the end of the flood and a new era of God’s grace (Gen 8:8-11).
The climax of this scene comes with the voice from heaven, which tells us in effect that the new creation will involve an influx of divine love that will be incarnate in the person of Jesus. Henceforth, he will be the embodiment among us of God’s transforming and empowering love with a potential to transform the universe.
This description of the consequences of the baptism of Jesus must not be seen simply as something that happened to Jesus alone. For in our own baptism we have become part of the new creation and God speaks to us also with those same loving and empowering words that he spoke to Jesus (adapted to our situation): “You are my beloved child; I love you very much.” With these divine words we are truly joined to the person and the mission of Jesus.
The fact that we cannot hear these words in a conscious way when we are baptized as infants makes it all the more important that we learn how to listen as we grow older and become more aware of the presence of God. In fact, there is nothing that we can do during our lives that is more important than listening as God tells us, in our hearts and souls, that we are his beloved and cherished children. We are bombarded constantly by the words of our busy world and some of them may be important, but none of these human words can possibly be as important in our lives as the words of God spoken to us in our baptism.
There can be no doubt that Jesus heard these words of his heavenly Father all during his ministry. When he went aside to pray, he would be comforted and reassured and strengthened by these loving words. We too would do well to set aside some time each day to listen as God whispers to us that we are so loved that we do not ever need to be afraid. As we do that, we enter into the full meaning and power of our baptism and we find the secret of living in gratitude and hope, as we prepare for resurrection glory.
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.