Baptism Of The Lord, Year B
Let us contemplate on baptism – ours and Jesus’
Many of us were baptised as babies and do not remember our baptism. Then there are those of us who do remember our baptism, as we were baptised as teens or adults. Regardless of whether we remember our baptism, most of us do not often reflect on our baptism, if at all. The purpose of baptism is two-fold:
- Through the rite of baptism, the baptised is accepted into God’s family, as His adopted sons and daughters.
- Baptism cleanses the baptised of all sins, including Original Sin. As Jesus promised, “Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)
This week, we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord Jesus. The Gospel passage recalls how Jesus was baptised: “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’” (verse 9-11) If we examine the purposes of baptism, it is obvious that 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 Himself is God. The other purpose of Baptism is to be cleansed of sins – Jesus did not need that either as He is sinless.
So, why did Jesus allow Himself to be baptised? It is an act of love. How so? You see, in order that we may be cleansed of our sins, Jesus the Sinless One took on all our sins and allowed Himself to be baptised. Eventually, He would die on account of all our sins that He took upon Himself. As Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn 15:13) This is love in its highest form. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21) We are cleansed of our sins at our baptism because God has taken on our sins. Because Jesus has taken away our sins and laid them upon Himself, each time we approach God to confess our sins, we are forgiven and reconciled to Him once more – no conditions, no strings attached. Hence, to experience more deeply God’s great love and mercy for us, we should contemplate on baptism often – ours and Jesus’.
To take upon the sins of all humanity is no small sacrifice. You may ask, surely there is an easier way for God to help us encounter His mercy and love? Couldn’t He just shower us with blessings and miracles? But that was exactly what God did in the Old Testament! The First Reading was taken from an Old Testament Book written towards the end of exile of the Jews to Babylon. In the passage, God reminded the people of his everlasting covenant with David, that He will once again deliver them from their misery. The Jews were God’s first chosen people. God showered them with blessings upon blessings through the ages – gifting them with a Promised Land filled milk and honey; rescuing them from slavery in Egypt; feeding them with manna in the desert. But yet, when the Babylonians invaded, God lifted his protection of the Jews; and allowed the people to go into exile. Why did God allow that? It was because the people took God’s blessings for granted. In spite of God’s blessings, they forgot about God, engaged in immoral conducts and sinned against Him. So in 587BC, the Babylonians conquered the Jewish nation of Judah and the people went into exile.
My brothers and sisters, what about us? In spite of God’s love and mercy for me, have I forgotten about Him? Have I reduced Him to a ceremonial God, to whom I observe a few ritualistic rites and special holidays? Beyond these, do I contemplate Him often? By my baptism, I am an adopted son or daughter of God. However, in my life outside the Church, did I behave like a son or daughter of God? Or are my behaviour and priorities no difference from the rest of the world? Do I behave like Abel, who gifted God with the best he could offer? Or am I like Cain, diverting my best energy and endeavours towards the attainment of fame, fortune, power and sex, and only offering God my leftover? (Gen 4:3-5) My dear friends, if we are behaving like Cain, let us reflect and reprioritise. “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy?” (First Reading, verse 2)
We might think that God is cruel by allowing the Jews to suffer the pains of the Babylonian exile. We might think God is cruel when we suffer defeats and losses in our lives. But this is how much God love us. He loves us so much that it pains Him to see us suffer. Yet, He allows us to suffer so that we may perfect our love in Him. And as the final straw, He Himself would take on the greatest suffering so that we may recognise His great love for us. As we reflect on Jesus’ baptism this week, let us ask ourselves: have I abandoned the pursuit of God, in preference to the pursuit of earthly rewards? Let us heed the call of prophet Isaiah in this week’s First Reading: “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” (Verse 6-7)
So, using the words of Isaiah, how do we forsake our wicked ways and return to the Lord? We do it with love. In the preceding verse to this week’s Second Reading, St John gave a discourse on love, in which he said, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” (1 John 4:20) My dear brothers and sisters, we are all beloved children of God, created to love God and love each other, including our enemies and even those who hurt us. It is not difficult to love someone who loves us. But Jesus said, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” (Mt 5:46) So how do we find the grace to love our enemies and those who hurt us? It is by contemplating how God loves us: “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8) Or as St John said in his discourse on love, “We love because he first loved us.” (1 Jn 4:19)
St John said in the Second Reading this week, “we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments” (verse 2). And curiously, St John followed on by saying, “For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (verse 3) How so? Many of us struggles to obey the commandments of God. How can his commandments not be burdensome? If we are struggling to obey God’s commandments, it is because we are failing our baptismal promises. If we are failing our baptismal promises, it is because we are yet to born of God. In other words, we are still born of the world, “for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.” (verse 4) St John asked: “Who is it that conquers the world”? It is “the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (verse 5). And since Christ is “the one who came by water and blood” (verse 6). This is what we are called to. Yes, my brother and sisters, our baptism by water is only the beginning of our faith journey. As we embrace the water of rebirth at baptism, we also called to embrace the blood. This is the reason we suffer, so that we can be perfected in our love for God and for each other. Jesus, said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mt 16:24) And above all, “the Spirit is the one that testifies” (verse 6). It only when we experience the water of rebirth and the blood of the cross, then strengthened by the Holy Spirit, we may be truly born of God: “There are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree.” (verse 7-8) Only then we are able to obey his Commandment in love, that it is not burdensome, that we may truly experience healing and love.
“It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20)
Glory be unto God. Amen.