Many of us are familiar with personal identity documents, compulsory in some countries and non-compulsory in others. These documents are updated at different stages in a person’s life. The first one is given in childhood, it is renewed in the teenage years and then renewed every so many years as demanded by a particular state.
With today’s celebration of the Baptism of Jesus we come to the end of the Christmas season. Throughout this season we were gifted with the Christ child’s own fairly detailed, personal identity card, beginning with Matthew 1:18, (Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit;) preceded by the long and interesting genealogy of the child to be born. This beautiful feast of the Baptism of the Lord goes to great lengths to help us to move towards becoming familiar with the identity of the adult Jesus.
In the Gospel of Matthew , chapter 3: 13-17 we meet Jesus immersing himself in the river Jordan to be baptised by John. Like many Jewish adults of his own time he humbly submitted to this initiation rite, allowing the healing waters of the Jordan to flow over him. He was doing the will of his Father, respecting the tradition of his time, and in doing so, something new and extraordinary happened:
“At once, the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God come down like a dove and rest upon him.” He is the faithful disciple, anointed by the Spirit, proclaimed the chosen one; the beloved Son of God. Later on while Jesus is in the midst of his very active ministry, carrying out the Father’s will, bringing God’s Kingdom to birth, we will hear this same proclamation again in Mt, 17:5. “a voice from the cloud proclaims: This is my Son, the Beloved, my Chosen One, listen to him.”
In the first reading of The Baptism of the Lord, Isaiah proclaims: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight.” The text from the Acts of the Apostles tells us that the early Christians knew Jesus to be: “The Nazarian, anointed with the Holy Spirit and power, who went about doing good and healing all, because God was with him.” This Christian community recognised Jesus’ special calling, by the witness of his life referenced in all of the readings for this feast day. It is clear that his Baptism was his initiation into his public ministry.
One of the joys of preparing adults for Baptism today is seeing them grow into a deep understanding of Baptism as an initiation into the call to discipleship.
Surely, the Baptism of Jesus is an invitation to us to renew and reflect on our identity as his disciples, rooted in God’s promise to us as proclaimed by Isaiah 42:6-7, “I will hold you by the hand, I will make you firm, I will make you a covenant to the people and a light to the nation” to open the eyes that do not see, to free captives from prison, to bring out into light those who sit in darkness.”
With God’s promise, we also receive the assurance we will be accompanied by the Spirit living deep within us, guiding us, affirming us, strengthening and sustaining us, reminding us again and again, we are chosen to do as Jesus did ”to open the eyes that do not see ,to free captives from prison, and bring out into light those who sit in darkness.” We see Jesus live out his mission throughout the Gospel of Matthew and indeed in each one of the Gospels.
At the beginning of this new year, is all of this not an invitation to us to reflect on; how we live out our mission as disciples of Jesus today?
The Scripture texts for this feast day are challenging, hope-filled and encouraging . Little wonder then in a world longing for peace, torn asunder by war, as the disciples of Jesus we believe all things are possible and so, we proclaim with the psalmist:
The Lord will bless his people with peace
Caitriona Gorman, OP