WAS IT NECESSARY FOR JESUS CHRIST TO BE BAPTIZED?
HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD, YEAR C. Readings: Isaiah 40:1-5.9-11; Psalm 104; 2 Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7; Luke 3:15-16.21-22.
Today’s celebration traditionally brings to an end the Christmas season and begins the ordinary time of the church’s liturgical year. The feast of the Baptism of the Lord affords us the opportunity to reflect on our baptism as well.
The penny catechism book defines baptism as a sacrament, which cleanses us from original sin, makes us Christians, children of God and members of the Church. In accordance with the teachings of the Church, we have three types of baptism:
- Baptism by water: This is known as the sacramental baptism, realized through affusion, which is pouring of water over the head, or by immersion.
- Baptism by blood: When one sacrifices his/her life for the faith just like the martyrs or holy innocents.
- Baptism by desire: When one dies with the intention of being baptized or is in the process of being baptized. For example, a catechumen.
In view of the above, one may likely ask: why do we baptize infants when they have no knowledge of what they are receiving? Today’s liturgy also reminds us that God makes covenants with the family as a unit, not just with individuals. This is evident in the life of Abraham and his descendants/children as we have seen in Gen 17:7-8, where circumcision was the sign of God’s covenant with his people. In Joshua 24:15, gathering all the tribes of Israel at Shechem, Joshua said to them, “Choose this day whom you will serve, as for me and my family/household, we will serve the Lord.”
In the New Testament, baptism, which signifies more, became the new sign of God’s covenant with His people and God keeps making His covenants with families as units. This is also evident in Acts 16:13-15 where Paul baptized Lydia and her household, with no specification whether they were infants or adults. In 1Cor 1:16, Paul baptized Stephanas and his family. Hence, children/infants should not be treated as pagans or unbelievers, since it is evident that the Apostles and the early Church practiced infant baptism which has remained in full practice up to this day, even after having been challenged by the rise in Pentecostalism since the 16th century.
Today, we celebrate the baptism of the Lord and a fundamental question we are likely to ask is this: was it necessary for Jesus Christ to be baptized? In the Gospel of today, Luke tells us, “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’” He was not baptized because he needed cleansing from sin; he was sinless and John himself understood. He did it to completely identify Himself with sinful man. This same heart would lead to His identification with sinners on the cross.
In Matthew’s account John said, “I need to be baptized by you and not you coming to me” (Mt 3:14). John recognized that his baptism was only a prelude to what Jesus would bring. So, even when the people were mistaking him for the messiah, he told them, “I baptise you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with Fire” (Luke 3:16). The Messiah will bring an immersion of the Holy Spirit that was greater than the immersion in water as a demonstration of repentance, which could not truly cleanse one from sin, nor could it impart the Holy Spirit in the way Jesus would after his mission was completed.
Baptism we know begins the Christian journey of every human being. For Christ, His baptism began His public ministry. In the sermon of St. Maximus of Turin, he said, “Christ entering the waters of baptism is not for Him to be washed or purified from sins, but purifying the water that will be used for our baptism. For when the Saviour is washed, then already for our baptism all water is cleansed and the fount purified, that the grace of the laver may be administered to the people that come after. Christ therefore takes the lead in baptism so that Christian peoples may follow after him with confidence.” His baptism communicates to us the efficacy/importance of our baptism, of which we receive grace upon grace that we as sinners are reconciled to God and become sons and daughters of God. Finally, His baptism gives a revelation of the Blessed Trinity.
With the theme of reconciliation, Isaiah in the first reading prophesied of a voice crying in the wilderness to prepare the way for the Lord. In this reading, Isaiah speaks of John the Baptist’s call for repentance through baptism. Isaiah had made Jerusalem aware of her sin and speaks of the day when she would be comforted and her sins forgiven, just the same way as John did. John’s baptism was not to wash away sins but to show repentance for the forgiveness of sins by Christ. So, he prepared the way, and spoke of the Messiah whose baptism will forgive sins.
We recall the penny catechism book defining “Baptism as a sacrament, and a sacrament is an outward sign of inward grace, ordained by Jesus Christ by which grace is given to our souls.” It is on this note the letter of St. Paul to Titus in the second reading tells us, “For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright and godly lives in this world…” It is a reminder of the renunciation of the devil we made on the day of our baptism.
In our baptism, we identify with Christ’s passion, death and burial so that we can rise with Him in His resurrection. May the graces we have received in baptism bring us to eternal life through Christ our Lord. Amen! Peace be with you!
Fr. Ken Dogbo, OSJ