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A Feeling of Expectancy Lk 3:15
The geographical location Luke gives for today’s encounter is an unspecified place on the Jordan River in what we call the Holy Land. Different sites have been suggested for where the actual baptism occurred. Whatever its precise location, Jesus was introduced to the public life there.
Who was the Baptist?
While the Baptist’s importance is universally accepted the detail of his life is virtually unknown. Had it not been for our Gospels history would have forgotten him almost completely. The first century Jewish historian Josephus recalls him but speaks minimally of his role in Judaism up to his execution. Josephus gives no elaborated detail on his meaning and importance for the Jews of his day, and says nothing of his relationship with Jesus. Nor does he say much about Jesus.
The Gospel writers esteemed the Baptist highly transmitting the tradition that Jesus had acknowledged his greatness without ever indicating whether they had met personally, except for this encounter. People have speculated as to whether Jesus had been a disciple of the Baptist. It was never said that the Baptist was a disciple of Jesus- though some of his disciples left him to join Jesus, with his encouragement to do so(Jn 1:31f.).
The Reading from Acts 10:34-8 (Second Reading)
In today’s second reading (Acts 10:37ff.) Peter develops his catechesis of the Roman convert Cornelius with this reference to the Baptist: “after John had been preaching baptism.” This was an essential part of the picture for understanding who Jesus was. Luke also tells us that the Jew Apollo, who was a native of Alexandria, had been baptized with the baptism of the Baptist (Acts 18:24; 19:1). That the Baptist’s influence ranged so widely in such a short space of time indicates his influence - and Christianity never ceased to proclaim his importance, and incorporated it into the witness necessary for proclaiming Jesus of Nazareth as The Messiah who fulfilled the hope of Israel.
The Baptism of Jesus
‘You are my Beloved Son, my favour rests on you’. Such is Luke’s presentation of the baptism scene. Jesus has a unique relationship with the God of Israel. The Beloved Son means in John’s Gospel: he who is near the Father’s heart (Jn 1:18). Nothing could be more intimate. “Philip! He who sees me sees the Father” (Jn 14:9). This is the ultimate epiphany.
Since the beginning of Christianity believers have been trying to live their lives in the way that Jesus lived his, but obviously without his perfection. In our day too believers try to live their lives lovingly as he did. The basic belief is that every human being is of inestimable importance. Exemplary human beings show this to be true all the time, because they live for others. Loving communities exemplify this because they are not in it for themselves. Baptism in the Jordan was Jesus’ public commitment to the values of the Kingdom of God. It was self-dedication to changing the world, in theological technical language ‘to save it’. This meant relief for the suffering, living the truth with sincerity, with openness and goodness, and not just talking about it. The name of this is conversion. Jesus’ baptism included a declaration from heaven as to who he was and what it meant. What God wants is made clear in Jesus’ presence in the world. It comes down to a personal change that affects relationships and transforms society. In his Church, with fellow believers, all the baptized commit themselves to the transformation of themselves first of all, and then with all who profess the name of Christ and live like him in the world. We look around for those who do it the best. Who are the self-giving people who always put others first? By contrast who are those who find their own comfort first and then find a place afterwards for others? The Baptist is presented in our Gospel as that person of foundational importance who found himself in the presence of someone of greater importance, and with gladness accepted it. Jesus does not deny who he himself is, and with his life shows himself as the servant of all (Mk 10:45; Phil 2:6-8). We recite these verses ‘Though he was in the form of God..’ and even sing them-and the converted of heart hear them and translate them into reality. Ghandi cleaned the latrines of the most despised in the India of his day, and Tolstoy mowed the hay with the serfs. They had discovered this message of selfless love in the Sermon on the Mount. These examples may seem like propaganda. But the inspiration comes from Our Lord. ‘I have a baptism with which to be baptized’ (Mk 10:38). He was talking of his death for the principles for which he lived (Mk 10:45). He had washed the feet of his disciples (Jn 13). “Learn of me for I am meek and humble of heart. Then you will have peace” (Mt 11:29). He had seen the self-serving comfortable and ambitious glory-seekers among his own disciples (Mk 10). They had to change. But flatterers always continue on their chosen path. “Not all those who say Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom” (Mt 7:21-2). Flatterers can make themselves indispensable to achieve their goal. Jesus called them hypocrites. On listening to him the Pharisees must have been horrified at the accusation, certainly but not exclusively, directed at them. But he also said: “When you have done all that is commanded you, say, ‘We are still unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Lk 17:10 RSV). Nobody should have any problem understanding this when we do it for those we truly love.
In our families and communities we appreciate once more those who mirror Jesus best, and we hope that we are not among those, who though baptized, take care of ourselves first of all- and then with what is left over attend to others. The text from The Acts of the Apostles puts it idealistically, but none the less realistically: “None called anything his own. They shared all things in common” (4:32). Unrealistic, yes, but inspirational too… we are so helped by those who strive for such ideals. And how can we possibly live without ideals?
Supported by the example of the splendid people who have helped us so much and still do, we are encouraged to believe in humanity at its best - the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us. That is why we are here together day by day and Sunday by Sunday, as a community at prayer - and give each other the sign of peace as commitment to what we share in common. Happy Feast! Amen.
Rev Richard J. Taylor
Spiritual Advisor ,
Boarbank Hall, Cumbia, UK