The baptism of the Lord

The account of the baptism of Our Lord in the Gospel of St. Mark is brief - only three sentences long. Even so, it is filled with magnificence and wonder. When Jesus rises from the waters of the Jordan River, the sky above is "torn open," the Holy Spirit descends like a dove to rest upon Our Savior and the voice of the heavenly Father calls down, "You are my beloved Son; with You I am well pleased."

There are some key differences between the baptism of Jesus and our own Christian baptism. John the Baptist was offering a baptism of repentance, which represented his disciples' need to prepare for the coming Messiah by repenting from their sins. John's baptism did not include the divine power to wash away sins, as Christian baptism does. Of course, since Jesus was sinless, that did not matter.

So why did Jesus ask to be baptized? Often, when Jesus' intention is unclear to us, we find that the best answer is, "He did it for us." Jesus comes to do the will of the Father, and the will of the Father is that the world might be saved through His beloved Son (cf. Jn 3:17). Jesus was baptized to unite Himself to us, being immersed with those whom He frees from their sins. He was baptized that He might sanctify the waters of our baptism. He was baptized to show us the path to eternal life.

Jesus was baptized for all of us, and in His baptism He shows us that the way to salvation is through our own baptism. Christian baptism finds its power in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His dying on the cross gives the cleansing waters of baptism the power to free us from sin. His rising on Easter morning offers us the gift of life eternal through the waters of baptism.

The glory of our own baptism is often overlooked. Therefore, it would be fruitful to prayerfully imagine the scene of the baptism of Jesus in our minds. In that scene at the Jordan River, we see the divine power that rends the heavens asunder, the love between the Father and His beloved Son, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. These elements reflect what each Christian receives at his or her own baptism. Just as Jesus was united with His heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit when He arose from the water, the Three Persons of the Trinity are united with us at our baptism. As Jesus was called beloved by our heavenly Father when He arose from the Jordan River, we too are called beloved by the Father as He makes us His adopted children and welcomes us into the church. In our union with the Holy Trinity, we receive the gifts of faith, hope and charity, the theological virtues that will allow us to live out the command to love God and our neighbor.

The glory of God surrounds each of us when we are baptized. While we may forget to think of it as such, it truly is the greatest day of our lives. It is a day we should celebrate each year on its anniversary, for it is the day we entered into salvation.

The gift of baptism is so essential that before ascending into heaven, Jesus command His apostles, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 28:19).

Jesus desires that all be saved, and in baptism, He offers to us the way. As we recall the baptism of Jesus, may we be filled with gratitude for the gift of our own baptism and the supernatural gifts we received with it.

Fr. Wagner is Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde's secretary.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015