Baptism Of The Lord, Year C
Theme of the week: By our baptism, God gives us the grace to turn away from sins, return from our spiritual exile and turn back to Him.
After the Babylonian conquest of the the Israelite kingdom of Judah in 605BC, many Israelites were taken from their homeland and exiled to Babylon. The First Reading was written in the context of that exile. In that time, many second-generation Israelites got comfortable with their lives in Babylon and lost the zeal to return to their homeland. The passage reignites the people’s hearts by explaining how the Lord will smoothen their path back, where valleys would be filled in, hills laid low, and cliffs became plains. Beyond the literal meaning, this passage foretells the coming of Christ. Verse 3 spoke of a voice crying out in the wilderness, “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God”. In the Gospel of Matthew, it was revealed that at the coming of Christ, that voice is none other than that of John the Baptist (Matt 3:3). As the Israelites were called from their exile to Babylon in the First Reading; John the Baptist similarly called for all sinners to return from our spiritual exile. Contemplate this for a moment, let me search in my heart and find that sin I have been struggling with. Sometimes, having been immersed in that sin for a long period of time, like the Israelites in Babylon, we too can get too comfortable and complacent. The coming of Christ is a wake-up call to us from our immersion in sins, so that we may start embarking on the journey back to God.
The Gospel this week tells the story of the Baptism of our Lord. If we examine the purposes of baptism, it would seem that our Lord Jesus need not be baptised. The first purpose of Baptism is the acceptance of the baptised into God’s family – Jesus did not need that as he is God. The other purpose of Baptism is to be cleansed of sins – Jesus did not need that either as he is sinless. That our Lord Jesus joined the sinners in seeking John’s baptism is a recognition of his messianic mission – that is, to minister to us sinners, he would first be identified with us. This is the mercy of God. That in order to save us from our immersion in sins, Christ the Sinless One took sins upon Himself - an act that led to Him paying the ultimate price on Good Friday.
At the end of this week’s First Reading is a promise that the Lord God will come with might and power (verse 10). In contrast to the Jewish leaders of that time, who did not fulfil their duties as the shepherds of the people (Jer 23:1-2), Christ Himself came to us as the Good Shepherd who “lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11, Lk 15:307).
In spite of Christ’s great act of mercy, turning away from sins is sometimes not easy. The Second Reading explains that to help us turn away from sins, God gave us grace, bestowed upon us at our baptism, to be “self-controlled, upright, and godly” (verse 2:12). It is by our baptism that we become co-heirs to the kingdom of God. Let us call upon that grace as we acknowledge our sins and make the journey back to God. Amen.