The readings today give us a renewed appreciation of the first Mystery of Light: the Baptism of the Lord. They draw us into the heart of two servants: Jesus, fully human and fully divine, sent to serve humanity through his life, death and resurrection, and John the Baptist, the man sent to serve humanity by preparing the way for Jesus. As Jesus comes to the Jordan to submit to John’s baptism, we see how the lives of these two men intersect in order that Jesus’ public ministry may begin and his messianic mission be fulfilled.
In the Gospel, we hear John the Baptist humbly proclaim his role in the unfolding of this divine plan. Through the grace of God, John understands his place and recognizes that his baptizing (“immersing”) the people is only a prelude to what “One mightier than I” will bring. He realizes that the Messiah will bring an immersion in the Holy Spirit – far greater than the immersion in water that was only a sign of repentance. John rightly sees himself only as a predecessor, not even worthy to perform the task of a slave in loosening the thongs of Jesus’ sandals. He is very clear about his role, and this clarity helps him get out of the way so he can make a way for Jesus.
Someone once said that true humility is knowing your place… and taking it. John demonstrates such humility and it makes him an effective servant of the Lord. When we know our place and take it, we open a space for God. We get out of the way so that he can fill us with his Spirit, who makes us a servant of the Lord. John the Baptist did exactly that. In baptizing Jesus he serves him, and before John’s very eyes, Jesus’ divinity becomes manifest in the Jordan River.
We might wonder why Jesus would need to go through this symbolic purification. After all, he has no sins to wash away. Jesus’ submission to John’s baptism shows us that he too has humility. He humbly submits to a baptism of repentance not because he needs it but because he is uniting himself totally with us sinners. Jesus shows that he is with us, he understands us, and he is one with us.
Mark tells us that the heavens are “torn open” when Jesus comes out of the water. It is a sign that the barrier between God and man has been removed. When the Spirit descends upon Jesus, we learn that Divine Love has come upon the human family. The voice of the Father announces: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” This passage is a revelation of the beauty of the Trinity in action. God the Son is baptized, God the Father speaks from heaven, and God the Holy Spirit descends like a dove. It is the moment of a new creation. In Jesus, the Father is once again well pleased with man, just as he was pleased at the creation of man and “saw that it was very good” (Gen 1:31).
The Baptism of Jesus sanctifies the waters of creation, opening the way for the Sacrament of Baptism. In Baptism, we become a new creation: we are cleansed; the heavens are torn open for us; we are filled with the Holy Spirit; and the Father accepts us as his own beloved children. We only receive Baptism once, but the grace of Baptism is continually at work in us. We need to renew our baptismal commitment again and again as we journey and grow in faith. Each time we enter a church and bless ourselves with holy water, we call to mind our Baptism “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We renew our commitment to the Lord as his obedient servants.
In the first reading, the Lord speaks through Isaiah to describe the character of his obedient servant. Jesus fulfills this prophecy fully. The words of the Father at the Baptism of the Son echo the words of the Lord to his servant, “my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit.” The servant of the Lord is described as one who is gentle but strong, who will establish justice on the earth, who will be a light for the nations, “to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement and from the dungeons, those who live in darkness.”
In light of the powerful grace we receive in Baptism, we can see ourselves in this description of those whom Jesus, the Servant of the Lord, has come to save. He saves us from our mental and spiritual blindness, from the confinement of our disordered emotions, from the dungeons of our fears and addictions, from the darkness of our sins. Jesus, in doing the will of the Father, unceasingly serves us every day through the power of the Spirit. We can be absolutely confident in his constant love, care, guidance, and intercession in our lives. He is our model in the call to live as servants of the Lord.
What is my role as a servant of God? How can I grow in true humility? Do I renew my baptismal commitment as the Lord’s obedient servant?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 14, no. 2. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.