Baptism of Jesus, Son of God and Brother of Us All

Lectio Divina: Baptism of Our Lord, Year C

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Roman Rite

Is 40,1-5.9-11; Ps 104; Ti 2.11 – 14, from 3.4 to 7; Lk 3,15-16.21-22

Ambrosian Rite

Is 55: 4-7; Ps 28; Eph 2.13- 22; Lk 3,15-16. 21-22

1) Baptism of joy and mercy.

With the feast of the Baptism of Jesus the Liturgy this Sunday continues the Epiphany (manifestation) of Christ. Prolonging the mystery of the Epiphany in which the Son of God was manifested as a child to the Magi who had come to Bethlehem to worship Him, today we are called to remember the adult Christ who is baptized by John the Baptist. Christ «was baptized, it is true, as a man, but took upon himself the sins as God; not because he needed purification, but so that from the waters themselves he could bring holiness «(St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration, 29, 19-20).

This epiphany of Jesus has as a witness not only John the Baptist, his disciples and those sinners who had gone to receive the baptism of repentance, but also the Holy Trinity: the Father (The Lover) – the voice from on high – reveals in Jesus his only Son (the Beloved) consubstantial with Him, and all is done by virtue of the Holy Spirit (Love), who comes down on the Messiah in the form of a dove.

In fact, while Jesus, after having come out of the water of the Jordan, is praying, the Holy Spirit descends upon Him like a dove and the heaven opens and from above it is heard the voice of the Father, who says to Jesus «You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased» (Lk 3, 22). This pleasure of God is something deep. I do not think we can reduce it to a kind of convergence of feelings or identity of views. The pleasure of God is just a mirror, an identification of the Father in the Son.

The first “practical” consequence  for us is to make ours the prayer, with which the priest begins the Mass of this Sunday: «Almighty and eternal God, who after his baptism in the Jordan River  have declared Christ your beloved Son,  while the Holy Spirit was descending on him, grant to your children, born again from the water and the Spirit, to live always in your ‘loving and benevolent joy”. In doing so, the feast of the Baptism of Jesus will be for us not only a moment when we get to listen to his Gospel with joy, but also an invitation to be witnesses of Christ with a life lived in joy, because in the Son we are loved and forgiven children.

2) Epiphany of the Trinity.

According to St. Jerome there are three reasons why Jesus is baptized by John: «The first, because having been born like any other man, he must comply with the law with justice and humility. The second, to demonstrate with his baptism the efficacy of the baptism of John. The third, to show, by sanctifying the waters of Jordan with the descent of the dove, the advent of the Holy Spirit in the washing of the believers” (Comment to Mt 1, 3,13). But it is important to keep in mind two other lessons to be drawn from this feast. The first is that, by being baptized by John together with sinners, Jesus began to take upon himself the burden of guilt of all humanity, as the Lamb of God who «takes away» (literally: «who takes upon himself» ) the sin of the world (see Jn 1:29). The second is that, with his baptism in the Jordan, Jesus reveals the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit that come down among men, and show that their love is rich in forgiving and recreating mercy.

Therefore, the event of the baptism of Christ is not only the revelation of his divine filiation and his incarnation, but is also the revelation of the Trinity: «The Father in the voice, the Son in the man, the Spirit in the dove» (St. Augustine, In Io. Ev. tr. 6, 5). In this regard Chromatius of Aquileia says: «What a great mystery in this heavenly Baptism! The Father is heard from heaven, the Son appears on earth, the Holy Spirit is manifested in the form of a dove: we cannot speak, in fact, of true of Baptism, or of true forgiveness of sins where there is not the truth of the Trinity, nor the remission of sins can be granted if you do not believe in the perfect Trinity (Sermon 34, 1-3).

Here there is a second “practical” consequence: let’s make ours the prayer of St. Hilary of Poitiers: «Preserve undefiled in me this right faith and, to my last breath, grant me also this voice of my conscience, so that I remain faithful to that which I professed in my regeneration, when I was baptized in the Father, and in the Son and in the Holy Spirit«(De Trinitate, XII, 57, CCL 62 / A, 627). When a person is baptized in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,he or she is immersed in God.  «And this happens to us in being baptized: we come to be inserted in the name of God, so that we belong to this name and his name becomes our name and we too, with our witness — like the three in the Old Testament — can be witnesses of God, a sign of who this God is, a name of this God.«(Benedict XVI, Lectio Divina, July 11, 2012).

3) Baptism and Consecration.

The mission of Christ is summed up in this: to be baptize in the Holy Spirit, to free us from the slavery of death and «to open ourselves to heaven» that is the access to the true and full life that will be «a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy «(Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 12).

Therefore we could say that it is enough to be baptized to be good Christians and we not need a further consecration as, for example, that of consecrated virgins in the world. In this regard, Pope Francis points out that: «We all are consecrated to Him through baptism. We are all called to offer ourselves to the Father with Jesus and like Jesus, making a generous gift of our lives, in the family, at work, in the service of the Church, in works of mercy. However, this consecration is lived in a special way by the religious, by the monks, by the consecrated lay people, who with the profession of vows belong to God fully and exclusively. This belonging to the Lord allows those who live in an authentic way to offer a special witness to the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. Totally consecrated to God, they are fully given to the brothers, to bring the light of Christ where there is the most dense darkness and to spread His hope in the discouraged hearts «(February 2, 2014).

If we look at the consecrated Virgins in the world we see that they «are a sign of God in the various areas of life, are a leaven for the growth of a more just and fraternal society, are prophecy of sharing with the poor and little ones. Well understood and lived, the consecrated life appears to us just as it is: a real a gift from God, a gift of God to the Church, a gift of God to his people. Every consecrated person is a gift to the People of God»(February 2, 2014)

The Church and the world need this witness of the love and mercy of God. The consecrated persons, the religious men and women, are evidence that God is good and merciful. For this reason, Pope Francis has proclaimed a year dedicated to consecrated life. (November 30, 2014 – February, 2nd 2016)

The one who is consecrated, is committed to show and to anticipate in his or her life those attitudes of life and forms of humanity that everyone will live in Paradise. Meanwhile, on this Earth, we need witnesses to show that it is possible to reserve one’s life completely to Christ, so that God  may reveal himself and carry out His mission of love and mercy.

Love consecrated in virginity is «to keep the arms open to all without locking them up to embrace only someone» (Brother Roger of Taize). It is to close the arms to get the hands clasped in prayer and to entrust to God the people we love. In fact, virginity is a value when it is a chaste love, which opens to Love and is illuminated by Love. Following the example of the virgins, the families will have their doors and their hearts wide open to love.


Patristic Reading

Golden Chain


Lk 3,21-22

AMBROSE; In a matter which has been related by others Luke has rightly given us only a summary, and has left more to be understood than expressed in the fact, that our Lord was baptized by John. As it is said, Now when all were baptized, it came to pass. Our Lord was baptized not that He might be cleansed by the waters but to cleanse them, that being purified by the flesh of Christ who knew no sin, they might possess the power of baptism.

GREG. NAZ. Christ comes also to baptism perhaps to sanctify baptism, but doubtless to bury the old Adam in water.

AMBROSE; But the cause of our Lord’s baptism He Himself declares when He says, Thus it becomes us to fulfill all righteousness. But what is righteousness, except that what you would have another do to you, you should first begin yourself, and so by your example encourage others? Let none then avoid the laver of grace, since Christ avoided not the laver of repentance.

CHRYS. Now there was a Jewish baptism which removed the pollutions of the flesh, not the guilt of the conscience; but our baptism parts us from sin, washes the soul, and gives us largely the outpouring of the Spirit. But John’s baptism was more excellent than the Jewish; for it did not bring men to the observance of bodily purifications, but taught them to turn from sin to virtue. But it was inferior to our baptism, in that it conveyed not the Holy Spirit, nor showed forth the remission which is by grace, for there was a certain end as it were of each baptism. But neither by the Jewish nor our own baptism was Christ baptized, for He needed not the pardon of sins, nor was that flesh destitute of the Holy Spirit which from the very beginning was conceived by the Holy Spirit; He was baptized by the baptism of John, that from the very nature of the baptism, you might know that He was not baptized because He needed the gift of the Spirit. But he says, fitting baptized and praying, that you might consider how fitting to one who has received baptism is constant prayer.

THEOPHYL; Because though all sins are forgiven in baptism, not as yet is the weakness of this fleshly substance made strong. For we rejoice at the overwhelming of the Egyptians having now crossed the Red sea, but in the wilderness of worldly living there meet us other foes, who, the grace of Christ directing us, may by our exertions be subdued until we come to our own country.

CHRYS. But he says, The heavens opened, as if till then they had been shut. But now the higher and the lower sheep-fold being brought into one, and there being one Shepherd of the sheep, the heavens opened, and man was incorporated a fellow citizen with the Angels.

THEOPHYL; For not then were the heavens opened to Him whose eyes scanned the innermost parts of the heaven, but therein is shown the virtue of baptism, that when a man comes forth from it the gates of the heavenly kingdom are opened to him, and while his flesh is bathed unharmed in the cold waters, which formerly dreaded their hurtful touch, the flaming sword is extinguished.

CHRYS. The Holy Spirit descended also upon Christ as upon the Founder of our race, that He might be in Christ first of all who received Him not for Himself, but rather for us. Hence it follows: And the Holy Spirit descended. Let not any one imagine that He received Him because He had Him not. For He as God sent Him from above, and as man received Him below. Therefore from Him the Spirit fled down to Him, i.e. from His deity to His humanity.

AUG. But it is most strange that He should receive the Spirit when he was thirty years old. But as without sin He came to baptism, so not without the Holy Spirit. For if it was written of John, He shall be filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb, what must we believe of the man Christ, the very conception of whose flesh was not carnal but spiritual. Therefore He condescended now to prefigure His body, i.e. the Church, in which the baptized especially receive the Holy Spirit.

CHRYS. That baptism savored partly of antiquity, partly of novelty. For that he should receive baptism from a Prophet showed antiquity, but the Spirit’s descent denoted something new.

AMBROSE; Now the Spirit rightly showed Himself in the form of a dove, for He is not seen in His divine substance. Let us consider the mystery why like a dove? Because the grace of baptism requires innocence, that we should be innocent as doves. The grace of baptism requires peace, which under the emblem of an olive branch the dove once brought to that ark which alone escaped the deluge.

CHRYS. Or to show the meekness of the Lord, the Spirit now appears in the form of a dove, but at Pentecost like fire, to signify punishment. For when He was about to pardon offenses, gentleness was necessary; but having obtained grace, there remains for us the time of trial and judgment.

CYPRIAN; Now the dove is a harmless and pleasant creature, with no bitterness of gall, no fierceness of bite, no violence of rending talons; they love the abodes of men, consort within one home, when they have young nurturing them together, when they fly abroad, hanging side by side upon the wing, leading their life in mutual intercourse, giving with their bills a sign of their peaceful harmony, and fulfilling a law of unanimity in every way.

CHRYS. Christ indeed had already manifested Himself at His birth by many oracles, but because men would not consult them, He who had in the mean time remained secret, again more clearly revealed Himself in a second birth. For formerly a star in the heavens, now the Father at the waves of Jordan declared Him, and as the Spirit descended upon Him, pouring forth that voice over the head of Him who was baptized, as it follows, And a voice came from heaven, You are my beloved Son.

AMBROSE; We have seen the Spirit, but in a bodily shape, and the Father whom we cannot see we may hear. He is invisible because He is the Father, the Son also is invisible in His divinity, but He wished to manifest Himself in the body. And because the Father did not take the body, He wished therefore to prove to us that He was present in the Son, by saying, You are my Son.

ATHAN. The holy Scriptures by the name of Son set forth two meanings; one similar to that spoken of in the Gospel, He gave to them power that they should become the sons of God; another according to which Isaac is the son of Abraham. Christ is not then simply called a Son of God, but the article is prefixed, that we should understand that He alone is really and by nature the Son; and hence He is said to be the Only begotten. For if according to the madness of Arius He is called Son, as they are called who obtain the name through grace, He will seem in no way to differ from us. It remains therefore that in another respect we must confess Christ to be the Son of God, even as Isaac is acknowledged to be the son of Abraham. For that which is naturally begotten of another, and takes not its origin from any thing besides nature, accounts a son. But it is said, Was then the birth of the Son with suffering as of a man? By no means. God since He cannot be divided is without suffering the Father of the Son. Hence He is called the Word of the Father, because neither is the word of man even produced with suffering and since God is by nature one, He is the Father of one only Son, and therefore it is added, Beloved. For when a man has only one son, he loves him very much, but if he becomes father of many, his affection is divided by being distributed.

ATHAN. But as the prophet had before announced the promise of God, saying, I will send Christ my son, that promise being now as it were accomplished at Jordan, He rightly adds, In you I am well pleased.

THEOPHYL; As if He said, In You have I appointed My good pleasure, i.e. to carry on by You what seems good to Me.

GREG. Or else, Every one who by repentance corrects any of his actions, by that very repentance shows that he has displeased himself, seeing he amends what he has done. And since the Omnipotent Father spoke of sinners after the manner of men, saying, It repents me that I have made man, He (so to speak) displeased Himself in the sinners whom He had created. But in Christ alone He pleased Himself, for in Him alone He found no fault that He should blame Himself, as it were, by repentance.

AUG. But the words of Matthew, This is my beloved Son, and those of Luke, You are my beloved, Son, convey the same meaning; for the heavenly voice spoke one of these. But Matthew wished to show that by the words, This is my beloved Son, it was meant rather to declare to the hearers, that He was the Son of God. For that was not revealed to Christ which He knew, but they heard it who were present, and for whom the voice came.

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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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