Readings: Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Acts 10:34-38; Luke 3:13-16, 21-22
Does my image of the Baptism of the Lord only resemble the account in Matthew o Mark’s Gospel? Jesus is baptized in the Jordan, the heaven’s open, the Holy Spirit descends upon him and God’s voice identifies Jesus as his beloved Son. In John’s Gospel, John the Baptist recalls the Spirit descending on Jesus at his Baptism. We, the readers, don’t “witness” the scene unfolding; it’s described as a past event.
Here in St. Luke’s Gospel, the startling, defining theophany occurs after Jesus…had been baptized and was praying.
There must be a number of you here who entered the Church as an adult or a little younger. You actually remember your baptism as I can’t. I was there, I’ve seen the photos, but I have no memory of it. As an infant, I was unprepared for the sacrament and totally dependent on others to know about it. So St. Luke’s account is really special to me: Jesus experienced the defining character of Baptism after the ritual, while praying. It is in the sanctuary of prayer, of the intmate relationship with the unseen God that I, like Jesus, can be caught up in Baptism.
And that’s exactly how it has unfolded, how I grew into Baptism–and still grow into it or backslide.
In Luke’s Gospel this episode is embedded in real life. There are a few verses of today’s Gospel omitted in the lectionary describing John the Baptist imprisoned by Herod, a situation that puts announcing the Kingdom of God squarely on Jesus’ shoulders. Prayer is not an escape from life’s tragedies and challenges but an exploration of them, the strength to face them.
Today’s Gospel is immediately followed by Luke’s genealogy of Jesus, all the way back to Adam, sandwiched between Jesus’ Baptism and his forty day testing in the desert. Might this not imply that the rebirth of Baptism is rooted in our humanity and fuels that life-long trial of our personality which is vocation?
Isn’t Baptism more that a rite of passage, more than getting my membership card? Isn’t it the journey for the rest of my life, my on-going responsiveness to the Gospel? If it’s only the start, don’t I risk becoming deaf to the Gospel?
Aren’t we blessed to be baptized in Christ so we don’t have to map that journey on our own?