The feast of the Baptism of the Lord, as depicted in this stained glass image found in St. John the Baptist Church, Allentown, will be observed Jan. 10.
The feast of the Baptism of the Lord, as depicted in this stained glass image found in St. John the Baptist Church, Allentown, will be observed Jan. 10.
Gospel Reflection for Jan. 10, 2021, Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

Throughout the Advent Season, we drew our focus to John the Baptizer pointing us to Jesus and announcing the coming of the Lord. Now as we celebrate the end of the Christmas Season on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we hear again the Baptizer foreseeing the coming of the Lord, but this time we go beyond him to the great theologoumenon: the Father announcing: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Throughout the Gospels, and most clearly in John’s Gospel, Jesus stands as the face of God, the Son, pointing to the Father. Before Jesus begins his public ministry, it is the Father who designates the Son and announces the Son as the herald of the Gospel.

Obviously Jesus was drawn to John. Jesus, now already a middle-aged man has presumably spent his entire life in Galilee living in Nazareth and also Capernaum, where we expect that he worked in the building trades alongside his foster father Joseph. At some point Jesus is drawn to the Judean wilderness to listen to the preaching of the Baptizer. John, though he is preparing the Jewish people for the coming of the Messiah, does not really share the message of the Messiah. His language is harsher and more judgmental. He offers and perhaps even demands his followers to plunge into the Jordan River – Baptism – as a sign of their repentance and desire to seek forgiveness of their sins. His preaching is apocalyptic and eschatological in tone. While Jesus, too, uses these images, his preaching is more tempered, with a greater emphasis on love of God and neighbor, and the interiority of one’s heart in relationship to the Lord.

Apparently Jesus easily blended in with the others. We might presume he interacted with others who came to listen to John. Perhaps he was scanning the crowds to find his own future disciples, or maybe he stood aloof and at a distance.

Scholars debate how long Jesus was with John before the Baptism. Some believe Jesus was a disciple of John for some time, while many others, in keeping with the long-standing sense of the Church, hold that Jesus merely came to John for the expressed and singular purpose of inaugurating his public ministry. Whatever the case, the Spirit leads Jesus to John to be baptized. Immediately it is that same Holy Spirit that compels Jesus to go deeper into the wilderness where he is to be tempted.

Everyone who came to hear John preach and to receive Baptism from him did so for the purposes of making a change in their lives. For most, if not all, it meant turning away from their sins, experiencing a conversion of heart and mind, and recommitting themselves to living out the precepts of the Mosaic Law. This would have also suggested that they needed to go to the Temple and have offered the sacrifice for their sins so as to atone for them according to the prescripts of the Law.

Jesus, too, came indicating a change in life but in a way different from those around him. Jesus has also put a past behind him as he approaches John. His past was not one of sinfulness and abandonment of the Commandments as were the others. Instead Jesus stands before John setting aside the ordinary life of a tradesman to begin the mission for which he came. Jesus stepped into the water as a tradesman and stepped out of the water as the preacher of the coming of the Kingdom of God. While this was always who he is – he is after all the very Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity – it is with his Baptism that the work can begin.

Jesus is strengthened in his understanding of his divine Sonship through the Baptism. Each of us, as disciples of Jesus Christ, are also called to be a son or daughter of the Lord through our sharing in Baptism – a Baptism not borne of the Baptism of Jesus in water, but through the Baptism of his Passion, Death and Resurrection.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.