After detailing at some length John's preaching ministry, which culminated in the Baptist's imprisonment by Herod Antipas (3:1-20), Saint Luke offered his readers a terse description of Jesus' baptism (3:21-22).
The son of Herod the Great, Antipas ruled Galilee and Perea from 4 B.C to 39 A.D. John the Baptist had rebuked Herod publicly for his unlawful marriage to Herodias and "because of all the evil things he had done".
Herod's worst crime was to silence the criticism of his morals by locking John up in the hilltop fortress of Machareus where later he would meet a martyr's death.
By contrast with the ruler who shirked responsibility for his immorality, Jesus — one who was innocent and without sin — stood in solidarity with sinful humanity, coming to be baptized with repentant Israelites ("all the people were baptized").
Jesus underwent John's water baptism which imaged and pointed toward that greater baptism in the Holy Spirit, which He would confer after His death and resurrection.
Only the evangelist Luke notes that Jesus was at prayer at the time of His baptism. This observation is part a Lukan pattern, which depicts Jesus praying on numerous occasions: such as on the night before He chose His twelve apostles and delivered the great inaugural sermon (6:12); prior to eliciting Peter's confession that He was the "Messiah of God" (9:18); at the Transfiguration (9:29); and as a prelude to instructing His disciples to pray the "Lord's Prayer" and to trust in God's eagerness to give them the Holy Spirit (11:1-13).
Luke says that Jesus told His disciples a parable about a widow who insistently sought and obtained justice from an unjust judge in order to illustrate "their need to pray always and not to lose heart" (18:1-8).
While prayer is especially fitting in moments of crisis (for example, in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus "prayed more earnestly, and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground" [22:44]), it ought, as well, to characterize the daily routine of disciples as it did the life of their Master.
Luke's description of Jesus' baptism showed His devotion and nearness to God — that He looked to God at every stage of His mission. This impression is heightened by two elements: the physical sign of the Spirit descending upon Jesus and the endorsement of Jesus through God's voice from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with You I am well pleased".
The voice from heaven addressed Jesus in terms that echo biblical texts, though which ones precisely is debated by scholars. Good cases can be made that Psalm 2:7 (a royal psalm which would identify Jesus as God's Son with regal powers) and Isaiah 42:1 (a text which would proclaim Jesus as God's humble, Spirit-led servant) underlie the gospel's formulation of God's approval of Jesus.
But the experience of Jesus' baptism was not only His. For with the opening of the heavens came the Spirit's descent. The visible nature of this occurrence is manifest in the description of the Spirit's coming on Jesus "in bodily form like a dove".
Two passages from Genesis (God's brooding over the waters at creation [1:2] and Noah's dove [8:8-12] symbolizing the end of judgment and the beginning of grace) suggest that what happened in Jesus' baptism inaugurated a new era in divine-human relations.
Second Isaiah's proclamation of the dawning of a new era began with words of consolation, "Comfort, O comfort my people". For Israel's sins had been atoned ("her penalty is paid ... she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins"), a reality Christians believe has been definitively achieved in the obedient disposition of Jesus' identification with sinners.
In other words, what Jesus accomplished on the Cross began at His baptism. The time of Israel's dispersal is also ended; the time for unity has come ("the Lord God will feed His flock like a shepherd").
The epistle to Titus comments on the new beginning for humanity which started in Jesus' baptism and extends to more and more people through Christian baptism: "When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, He saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy, through the water or rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit".
* * * * * *
« Il faut bien savoir et bien se persuader que Dieu n’opère dans nos âmes que selon le degré de nos opérations, de nos désires, de nos actes intérieurs produits à cette fin. Un vase prend de l’eau à une fontaine selon sa capacité. » – St. Jean Marie Vianney, Curé d’Ars
« Chacun doit savoir profiter du talent qui lui a été donne, quel qu’il soit, c’est sa mesure. » – Sainte Marguerite Bourgeoys
* * * * * *
This afternoon at 2:30, the annual Homelands Mass begun by Archbishop Joseph-Aurele Plourde in the early 1980s to underline the multicultural reality of the Archdiocese, will be celebrated in Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica.
The Sunday of the Baptism of the Lord is most fitting as it closes the Christmas Liturgical Season wherein we have seen God's loving mercy towards all the nations of the earth.
May God's blessings continually be poured out on our church, which has been so enriched by the gifts of the many nations of the world who make up the local church of Ottawa.