The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord was recently introduced into the Roman Liturgical calendar. In the revised liturgy, this feast concludes the Christmas celebrations and begins the ordinary season. In readings from the Lukan Gospel during this year, we will try to: learn more about Christ, who was revealed as the Son of God at His baptism, and to gradually accept Him as our Lord by contemplating His teachings and ministry.
Luke presents the Baptism as an act of anointing Jesus with the Holy Spirit and empowering Him for His mission on earth. In the Lukan Gospel, Jesus had already been baptized by John the Baptist, just like any other ordinary person. In His anonymity and simplicity, while praying, the heavens open and Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit, like David was anointed king. And then, a voice declares with absolute authority: ‘Jesus is the Son of God’. This theophany is an unimpeachable declaration of Jesus’ identity and mission.
Later in the Acts of the Apostles, Luke uses a similar pattern to demonstrate that the Spirit of God comes to Jesus’ disciples in the context of prayer. At Pentecost, while the apostles were in prayer in the upper room, the Spirit came on them in the form of tongues of fire. Prayer is the most essential part in the life of Jesus and His disciples. It created an intimate relationship with their God and Father. Prayer is the source and the supplier of all divine assistance in our mission and life. Prayer opens the portal to God and the Holy Spirit.
In today’s gospel, John introduces Jesus as the one who will “baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire”. “Holy Spirit and fire” distinguish Jesus’ baptism from John’s baptism. John’s baptism is the baptism of repentance. Repentance is very essential for conversion and therefore, to have communion with God. Hence, John is the one who prepares the way for Jesus by preaching repentance.
“Baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire” has an even deeper meaning. Fire can mean division and judgement. Jesus will stand as a factor of division and therefore judgement among the people. In Luke chapter 12:49, Jesus says,” I came to bring fire on earth and how I wish it were already kindled…”. In John’s gospel, the evangelist categorically writes that those who refuse to believe in Jesus are already condemned (Jn 3:18). The baptism of Jesus gives us a choice to eternal life or our own condemnation – “He gathers the wheat into His granary; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire” (Lk 3:17).
-Fr. Ranjan D’Sa, OCD