The Baptism of Christ as the Epiphany of the Trinity

Lectio Divina: Baptism of Christ, Year B

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Roman Rite – Baptism of the Lord – Year B – January 11, 2015 

Is 55.1 to 11; PS Is 12; 1 John 5, 1-9; Mc 1, 7-11. 

Ambrosian Rite 

Is 55: 4-7; Ps 28; Eph 2.13 to 22; Mc 1, 7-11. 

1) The Baptism of Jesus and our baptism. 

This Sunday we celebrate the fact that Jesus was baptized2 by John the Baptist in the waters of the Jordan River in the Holy Land. John calls the sinners to be washed in the river before doing penance. Jesus comes to John to be baptized. Did He therefore confess himself a Sinner? Certainly not. 

Then, why did Christ, the Innocent, go to the Jordan to be baptized? 

We can answer this question with St. Jerome: “For a threefold reason the Savior was baptized by John. First, because being born man like others, He must respect the law with justice and humility. Second, to demonstrate with his baptism the effectiveness of John’s baptism. Third to show, by sanctifying the waters of Jordan through the descent of the dove, the advent of the Holy Spirit in the washing of the believers “(Jerome, Commentary on Matthew 1, 3, 13). 

Another question arises. Why do we celebrate and live this mystery of the Baptism of Jesus? 

To express our gratitude to Jesus. In his Baptism Christ, the sinless, took upon him all our sins, showing the closeness of God to man’s journey of conversion, and came in solidarity with us. 

This act of extraordinary humility was dictated by the wish to establish a full communion with each one of us, and by the desire to achieve genuine solidarity with us in our human condition. 

This act of Jesus anticipated the Cross, the acceptance of death for our sins and those of all humanity. Jesus takes upon his shoulders the burden of guilt of all humanity and begins his mission putting himself in the place of sinners, in the perspective of the cross. 

With this act of belittling himself Jesus wanted to conform totally to the loving plan of God the Father. 

If, then, we wanted to revisit the questions expressed just above in another way “Why, then, did the Father desire this? Why did He sent his only Son into the world as the Lamb to take upon himself the sins of the world (cf. Jn 1:29)? “, the answer is: to give to humanity the life of God and his spirit of love so that every man can draw from this inexhaustible source of salvation. This is why Christian parents bring their children as soon as possible to the baptismal font, knowing that the life which they have given to them calls for a fullness and a salvation that only God can give. Parents therefore become collaborators of God, transmitting to their children not only physical but also spiritual life. 

2) Our baptism. 

Certainly Jesus’ baptism was a baptism different from the one we, as children or adults, have received, but not without a profound connection to it. Basically the whole mystery of Christ in the world can be summed up by the word, “baptism”, which in Greek means “immersion”. The Son of God, who from eternity shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit the fullness of life, was “immersed” in our reality of sinners to make us participating in his own life. He became man, was born like us, grew up like us and, on reaching adulthood, manifested his mission which began precisely with the “baptism of conversion” administered by John the Baptist. His first public act, as the Gospels tell us, was to go down to the Jordan, mingling among repentant sinners, to receive baptism. John was naturally reluctant, but Jesus insisted, because that was the will of the Father (cf. Mt 3, 13-15). 

Finally, to the question “What does it mean for us to live this feast of the Baptism of Jesus?” the answer is “It means to live in the baptism of Jesus up to the point when he has taken everything from each of us and has given us everything.” How does He take all from us? Through our Baptism. 

Therefore, since Jesus Christ, the only Son of the Father, was baptized, the sky is truly open and continues to open up, and we can entrust every new life that blossoms or that, already adult, wants to immerse itself in the true God, in the hands of one who is more powerful than the dark powers of evil. This is Baptism: to give back to God what came from him. 

Baptism, in fact, is more of a washing and a purification. It’s more than becoming part of a community. It is a new birth. It is a new beginning of life. In Baptism we give ourselves over to Christ – he takes us unto himself so that we no longer live for ourselves, but through Him, with Him and in Him. We live with Him and thus for others. In Baptism we surrender ourselves, we place our lives in his hands so that we can say with St. Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” 

Baptism implies this news: our life now belongs to Christ, no longer to ourselves. For this reason we are not alone even in death, but we are with Him who lives forever. Greeted by Christ in his love, we are free from fear and we live in and of the love of the One Who is Life. 

3) The Baptism of the Author of Baptism. 

The Gospel passage, proposed in this Sunday commemorating the baptism of the Lord, opens with two statements by John the Baptist: “After me comes he who is mightier than I” “ I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit “(Mk 1,7-8). The preaching of John the Baptist is encapsulated in the function of drawing attention to Jesus. In its extreme simplicity (see note 1), the story of the baptism of Jesus is full of important meanings. 

First: Jesus – in Mark 1: 7-11 – is presented in two dimensions of his mystery: a man from humble beginnings (“came from Nazareth of Galilee”) and the beloved Son of God. 

Second: the opening of the heavens, the descent of the Spirit, the heavenly voice, everything converges in indicating that, with the manifestation of Jesus on the banks of the Jordan, the Messianic times begins. The heartfelt invocation of Isaiah 63:19 (“you would rend the heavens and come down”) has been heard. After remaining closed for a long and silent time, the sky opens, the Spirit is back among the people and the word of the Lord returns to resonate. 

In Baptism it is the movement of Christmas that repeats itself: God descends again, enters in each of us, is born in us so that we are born in God and Christ becomes the center of all Christian life. This is a fact that the consecrated Virgins in the world are called to testify in a particular way. 

The consecrated Virgins bring to completion the Christian vocation received in Baptism accepting their particular vocation and living their being a woman as a complete gift to God. 

In the path of their human and spiritual maturity, the consecration in the Ordo Virginum offers them a way to live in fullness their humanity that baptism had grafted into Christ. 

In this way of life they develop personal originality as a gift for oneself and for others. Their life totally centered in God, becomes an example of relationship with themselves, with others, with God, in the Church and in a given social and cultural context. 

In the rite of consecration, the consecrated virgins, called by God the Father by a design of love (Rite of Consecration of Virgins, 34), receive a “new spiritual anointing” (RCV, 29) rooting them in the baptismal consecration. With the celebration of the consecratio these women experience a new way to participate in the life of the Trinity, in which the baptism had already entered them, and God sustains them in fidelity from day to day (RCV, 53). 

 1. In fact, the Father bears witness to the Son, the Holy Spirit as a dove comes down from heaven, and the Son bows his immaculate head to be baptized to reveal himself as redeemer from the slavery of sin. “What a great mystery in this heavenly Baptism! The Father is heard from heaven, the S
on appears on earth, the Holy Spirit is manifested in the form of a dove: no one can speak of true baptism, nor of true forgiveness of sins without the truth of the Trinity, nor can anyone grant the remission of sins without believing in the perfect Trinity.” (Chromatius of Aquileia, Sermon 34, 1-3). 

2 All the evangelists have written about this event (Mt 3, 13-17; Mk 1, 9-11; Lk 3, 21-22; Jn 1.29 to 34). Let’s read the text of Mark (1, 9-10): “In those days (Jesus) came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. And, coming out of the water, he saw the heavens open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.” Jesus had come to the Jordan from Nazareth, where he had spent the years of his “hidden” life. Before his arrival, he had been heralded by John, who, exhorting people to a “baptism of repentance’, had preached “After me comes one who is stronger than me and to whom I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mk 1, 7-8). We were at the threshold of the messianic era. With John’s preaching, the long preparatory period which took place through the whole of the old covenant and, it can be said, of all human history, came to the end. John felt the greatness of that decisive moment that he interpreted as the beginning of a new creation, in which he discovered the presence of the Spirit hovering over the first creation (Gen 1.2). He knew and professed himself to be only the herald, the precursor and minister of the one who would come to “baptize with the Holy Spirit.” 

Patristic Reading 

Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, bishop 

Oratio 39 in Sancta Lumina, 14-16, 20: PG 36, 350-351, 354, 358-359) 

The baptism of Christ 

Christ is bathed in light; let us also be bathed in light. Christ is baptized; let us also go down with him, and rise with him. 

John is baptizing when Jesus draws near. Perhaps he comes to sanctify his baptizer; certainly he comes to bury sinful humanity in the waters. He comes to sanctify the Jordan for our sake and in readiness for us; he who is spirit and flesh comes to begin a new creation through the Spirit and water. 

The Baptist protests; Jesus insists. Then John says: I ought to be baptized by you. He is the lamp in the presence of the sun, the voice in the presence of the Word, the friend in the presence of the Bridegroom, the greatest of all born of woman in the presence of the firstborn of all creation, the one who leapt in his mother’s womb in the presence of him who was adored in the womb, the forerunner and future forerunner in the presence of him who has already come and is to come again. I ought to be baptized by you: we should also add, “and for you,” for John is to be baptized in blood, washed clean like Peter, not only by the washing of his feet. 

Jesus rises from the waters; the world rises with him. The heavens like Paradise with its flaming sword, closed by Adam for himself and his descendants, are rent open. The Spirit comes to him as to an equal, bearing witness to his Godhead. A voice bears witness to him from heaven, his place of origin. The Spirit descends in bodily form like the dove that so long ago announced the ending of the flood and so gives honor to the body that is one with God. 

Today let us do honor to Christ’s baptism and celebrate this feast in holiness. Be cleansed entirely and continue to be cleansed. Nothing gives such pleasure to God as the conversion and salvation of men, for whom his every word and every revelation exist. He wants you to become a living force for all mankind, lights shining in the world. You are to be radiant lights as you stand beside Christ, the great light, bathed in the glory of him who is the light of heaven. You are to enjoy more and more the pure and dazzling light of the Trinity, as now you have received—though not in its fullness—a ray of its splendor, proceeding from the one God, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen. 

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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