Sunday, January 13, 2019

(216) Living With Christ During His Baptism of Water and the Holy Spirit Through Images of the Holy Land on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord


A monument to the Baptism of our Lord on the shore of the River Jordan.

       Only the Gospels of Matthew and Luke describe the Nativity narrative.  However, all four Gospels describe the Baptism of Jesus.  John only mentions that the word was made flesh and Mark does not mention the Nativity at all.  Both begin with St. John the Baptist in the first chapter.  All demonstrate that John is preparing the people to meet the Son of God.  Since parchment or skins were expensive, the hand written Gospels had to be relatively short.  Thus the four evangelists did not go into much detail and would skip the less important.

A group of pilgrims being baptized for the first time or as in our case a symbolic renewal of our original Baptism with water from the Jordan River.  Many are baptized by immersion.  The priest, who accompanied our group from Poland, baptized each one of us by pouring water from the River Jordan over our heads and repeating the words of the sacrament.  If a person is dying and no priest is available, we can baptize the person.  When we were at the site where it is believed that St. John baptized Jesus, a large group of Ukrainian Orthodox pilgrims had a baptismal service.  According to our hotel clerk, the greatest number of pilgrims come from Russia.  This shows that Our Lady’s prophesy at Fatima --that Russia will be converted-- is coming true.  The conversion of Russia has begun!

The Role of John the Baptist. A man named John was sent from God.  He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.  He was not the light, but came to testify to the light (John 1:6-8). 
            In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea (and) saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!"…….John wore clothing made of camel's hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.  At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins (Matthew 3:1-6).

A biblical map of ancient Palestine that shows how the River Jordan connects the Sea of Galilee in the north to the Dead Sea in the south.

John testified to Jesus Christ.  When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him, "Who are you?", he admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, "I am not the Messiah."  So they asked him, "What are you then? Are you Elijah?" And he said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" He answered, "No."  So they said to him, "Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us? What do you have to say for yourself?"  He said: "I am 'the voice of one crying out in the desert, "Make straight the way of the Lord,"' as Isaiah the prophet said." 
Some Pharisees were also sent.  They asked him, "Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet?"  John answered them, "I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie" (John 1:19-27). 
I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.  I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11).  John (the) Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins (Mark 1:4-5).

As Christ did in His public ministry, John also had dialogues with the Pharisees.  He boldly told them the way it is:  Produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance; and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father', for I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.  Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire." And the crowds asked him, "What then should we do?" He said to them in reply, "Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise."
Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, "Teacher, what should we do?" He answered them, "Stop collecting more than what is prescribed."  Soldiers also asked him, "And what is it that we should do?" He told them, "Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages" (Luke 3:7-14; Matthew 3:7-10).  Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people (Luke 3:18).
He (John) saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.  (The priest and the congregation repeat this phrase at every Mass.)  He is the one of whom I said, 'A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.'  I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel"(John 1:29-31).

A conventional baptism on the River Jordan.


       The Baptism of Christ.  Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.  John tried to prevent him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?"  Jesus said to him in reply, "Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he allowed him.  After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened (for him), and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove (and) coming upon him.  And a voice came from the heavens, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:13-17).  This is the first public manifestation or (an epiphany) of the Blessed Trinity…….the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
John the Baptist testified: "I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him.  I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.'  Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God" (John 1:32-34).

Later after Christ chose His apostles and began His public ministry, John continued his preaching and baptizing.  After this, Jesus and his disciples went into the region of Judea, where he spent some time with them baptizing.  John was also baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was an abundance of water there, and people came to be baptized, for John had not yet been imprisoned. 
Now a dispute arose between the disciples of John and a Jew about ceremonial washings.  So they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing and everyone is coming to him."  John answered and said, "No one can receive anything except what has been given him from heaven.  You yourselves can testify that I said (that) I am not the Messiah, but that I was sent before him.  The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete.  He must increase; I must decrease" (John 3:22-30).

A baptism by immersion in the River Jordan.

Insights. The baptism by John was symbolic of repentance.  It did not forgive sins; that had to wait until the Redemption by our Lord on Calvary.  Christ did not need to be baptized.  He asked to be baptized in order to stress its importance and use it as a means for instituting the sacrament of Baptism that cleans the soul of all sin and initiates the child or convert into the faith.  Christ stood in the water, which was used to baptize sinners, symbolizing His taking upon Himself all the sins of the world……past, present and future.

According to the official Catechism of the Catholic Church (#438), “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power that He might be revealed to Israel as its Messiah.  His words and works will manifest Him as ‘Holy One of God.”  We see that the Father is pleased with the humility of His Son in His human nature to submit to being baptized with sinners and being willing to submit Himself to the will of God.  May we always desire to conform to the will of God for our lives.
The meaning of the names “Jesus” as well as “Messiah” are savior; the meaning of the title, “Christ” is anointed one. Upon descending upon our Lord, the Holy Spirit, who did not need the oils as symbols, anointed Him as priest, prophet, and king.  As a priest, He will offer Himself on the cross as expiation for our sins.  As a prophet, He will speak for God.  As a King in the line of David, his kingdom is the universe. 
We are also anointed upon receiving the sacrament of Baptism.  We are also priests, although not ordained to minister, in participating with the ordained celebrant in offering the body and blood of Christ to the Father at Mass.  We are prophets in proclaiming the word of God to our children and others.  We are kings of our families and are heirs to the kingdom of Heaven.  As kings are called to serve their subjects, so are we called by our anointing in baptism to serve others.

Well known is that the sacrament of Baptism erases the stain of original sin and remits every sin of the recipient and any corresponding temporal punishment, but there’s much more.  This sacrament initiates the person into the Church; makes a new creation of the neophyte; and gives sanctifying grace which is divine life in the soul.  Sanctifying grace makes us heirs to eternal life and become capable of loving God above all things and loving our neighbor as ourselves.  Furthermore, we are baptized not only with water, but also with the Holy Spirit who dwells in us and gives us His gifts.  The sacrament of Confirmation confirms and deepens the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  

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