B Cycle – Baptism of the Lord 20
As a society we are fascinated by celebrities. Many people follow them on Facebook, twitter, and other social media platforms. Many of those celebrities are not leading lives which are in line with Christian teaching, but we follow them anyway. Impressionable young people dress like their favorite celebrity’ wear the same hair style and use the same products. I was not much different as a young man when James Dean was so idolized. His white tee with a pack of cigarettes stored in his rolled up sleeve. His bored look and rebellious nature were cool.
It is easier to emulate a celebrity than Jesus or John the Baptist. I find the scene of the Baptism of Jesus in the opening verses of Mark’s gospel a strange way to begin to inspire us to seek and understand the reason for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We understand baptism is our initiation into the church of God. During baptism we are brought into the community of faith, we are filled with the Holy Spirit and the strain of original sin is removed. Jesus needed none of those things as he walked into the river and knelt before John.
John’s words at that moment express those same thoughts; “I have need to be baptized by you.” We need to take a step back and once again remember that the scriptures are God’s revelation of himself and teaches us how to respond to that revelation. I keep repeating that fact because we all to easily get caught up in the story and fail to seek why that story is recorded for us. We need to look beyond John and Jesus and reflect on the scene and the words of each person. John has been baptizing people for a while before Jesus stands before John. What was John doing, preparing the way of the Lord is how he described his ministry. Preparing the people for the one who was to come by “baptizing for repentance.”
Think of our own baptism, for many of us that was as an infant without us even aware of any of the effects of baptism. For us cradle Catholics, there must come a time when we must appropriate the faith of our parents for ourselves. If we do not, we may never experience the grace each of us is offered by our baptism. The change in us that occurs because of the promise of God to wash us clean from our iniquities and change our hearts. John’s baptism of repentance is forever changed by Jesus entering the water. Jesus does not need a baptism of repentance, he is the sinless one, therefore his entering the water is for another reason.
I believe the baptism of Jesus has some important lessons for us to reflect on as we seek holiness. Jesus by entering the waters of a baptism not to be sanctified but to sanctify the water. To change that outward sign of a desire to be reconciled to God into an inward change restoring our relationship with God. Now I could get all theological with you and talk about this a beginning of the sacrament of Baptism. I could add comments about the appearance of the Spirit and the connection with the sacrament of confirmation. But I believe I have done that before and you can find that in the archives if you wish to pursue that thought.
But I believe there is another message we overlook, and it is John’s attitude toward Jesus at that moment. We know John was the cousin of Jesus. We know John leapt in his mother’s womb when the pregnant Mary went to visit Elizabeth. We know John understood his role to be that of announcing the arrival of the Messiah. What John had been doing as he preached the coming of the Messiah was to call people to be prepared by repenting, turning back to God, and shunning the worship of anything other than God. He was so effective the crowds were growing, and John’s reputation grew with the crowds. Suddenly out of the crowd comes Jesus and kneels before John asking to be baptized.
What is amazing to me is John’s reaction to this request. John knows he is, like all of us, unworthy of Christ coming to us and using us to teach others about God’s desire for us to be instruments of his grace. John who was so certain that Jesus is the Messiah is suddenly reluctant to do what God is asking of him. In John we see the first tentative steps of “walking in faith” instead of doing the same thing over and over again. God surprises John by this request and he knows it is not in his power to do what is requested of him.
If you have not figured it out yet, our God is a God who loves to surprise us. Throw us a curve and challenge our system of belief. God desires us to trust and respond to his voice. John this day was hesitant and yet acted in faith. Jesus spoke to him and said, let us do this now and his compliance change repentance into an avenue of restoration for us. His compliance also shows us how stepping beyond our belief in what is possible changes us into a more powerful instrument of God’s grace.
John was challenged to do something he did not feel adequate to do and that act ushers in the powerful outpouring of the Spirit and the ministry of Jesus. John shows us what is possible if we are willing to cast our nets into the deep, beyond our own ability or perceived limitations of worth or holiness. You and I are being asked something by this event. We are being asked by Jesus to allow him to baptize us in Spirit and Fire. He is right before us saying allow this to happen, let the will of my Father happen to you, allow your life to be made an instrument of God’s grace.