January 12, 2020 • The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
First Reading: Isaiah 42:1–4, 6–7
Psalm: Psalm 29:1–2, 3–4, 3, 9–10 (11b)
Second Reading: Acts 10:34–38
Gospel Acclamation: Mark 9:7
Gospel: Matthew 3:13–17
The First Reading from the book of the Prophet Isaiah looks forward to the coming, baptism, anointing and ministry of Jesus. God is already celebrating His Son, His servant, who will carry out the victory of justice, establish a new covenant and bringing revelation, deliverance and freedom for the nations. And He proclaimed His plan through the prophet Isaiah beforehand so that when it came to pass His people would be able to recognize the signs.
His servant would come quietly and deal gently with the bruised reeds and smoldering wicks, healing and rekindling.
The Psalm seems to harken back to the creation narrative, the waters and the flood represent immense and powerful chaos and yet God is greater than these seemingly insurmountable forces of nature. He is King over all His creation. And we see Him bringing order out of chaos with His powerful voice. Water properly harnessed is essential to life for sustenance and washing, something that provides for our needs and those of all living things. We will see God accomplishing powerful things through water in the Gospel reading. The washing of baptism is closely associated with the anointing with the Holy Spirit and power.
In the Second Reading from Acts, we see Peter presenting the Gospel to the household and friends of Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile and Roman centurion. The light indeed had come and was going out to the nations. Peter began by telling about Jesus, starting with the baptism of John and the anointing with the Holy Spirit and power in which He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God the Father was with Him.
The acclamation refers to God’s thundering witness to His servant, His Son, at the transfiguration. God’s voice often was heard as thunder in the Scriptures and yet sometimes He speaks in a still, small voice.
In the Gospel reading, we see Jesus beginning His public mission by coming to John to receive John’s baptism of repentance. And John is as puzzled as we often are by His actions. He tells Jesus that He doesn’t need his baptism, but rather John needs His. But Jesus is coming to take our place, to stand in our stead, to identify with us completely. The baton is being passed from the Messiah’s herald to the Messiah Himself. His baptism signified all this and more; it was an anointing for the mission.
As Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens opened and the Spirit of God, like a dove, descended and came upon Jesus. And God witnessed to the fact that Jesus was His Son, with whom He was well pleased, harkening back to the Servant passage in Isaiah 42. Jesus was the chosen one, with whom God is well pleased and upon whom God has put His Spirit.
So, what does all this mean for us? Well, Jesus also wants us to be baptized with water and the Holy Spirit, which are closely associated, just as in His case. In fact, the Catholic Church teaches that when we are baptized with water in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, even as infants, we also receive the Holy Spirit and much more. Here’s what the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about the effects of baptism.
263. What are the effects of Baptism? Baptism takes away original sin, all personal sins and all punishment due to sin. It makes the baptized person a participant in the divine life of the Trinity through sanctifying grace, the grace of justification which incorporates one into Christ and into his Church. It gives one a share in the priesthood of Christ and provides the basis for communion with all Christians. It bestows the theological virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. A baptized person belongs forever to Christ. He is marked with the indelible seal of Christ.
Now if this statement doesn’t provoke some questions and discussion, I’ll be surprised.
I was baptized as an infant in the Presbyterian Church. The Presbyterians thought that baptism was the sign of the New Covenant as circumcision was the sign of the Old and that it should be applied to children of believing parents just like in the Old Covenant and they pointed the households being baptized in the New Testament. It is interesting that my maternal grandfather also thought that I was being presented to the Lord as an offering because he wrote that in a Bible that he presented to me on that day. He wrote, “To Howard, on the day you were presented to the Lord. From your Granddaddy.”
But the Catholic Church believes that even more happened at my baptism than the Presbyterian Church did, they believe that Paragraph 263 happened. The New Testament does present it as a washing and cleansing from sin for forgiveness as well as a death and rebirth.
Acts 2:38a RSVCE And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.…
Romans 6:4 RSVCE We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
But what about the Holy Spirit connection? Well, here’s what Peter says in Acts 2:38–39:
And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.” RSVCE
It is true there are subsequent fillings of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation and beyond. But baptism is powerful.
As I look back on my life, I can see that God’s hand has been upon my life from the beginning, from my baptism until now. As my granddaddy said, “To Howard, on the day you were presented to the Lord.”
The same thing happens to each of us whenever we are first baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.