January 8, 2021

Christ the Cornerstone

Jesus’ baptism calls us to share in his humility, holiness

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mk 1:7–8).

It’s appropriate that the Gospel reading for this Sunday, the Baptism of the Lord, features St. John the Baptist.

John was a key figure in our observance of Advent last month. He was the self-proclaimed “voice crying in the wilderness,” calling us all to repentance and rebirth through a baptism of water. His mission was to prepare the way for the long-awaited Messiah, and so it is significant that he is present as a witness to Jesus’ entry into public life and ministry.

The Gospels paint a portrait of John the Baptist as an austere man, a prophet who spoke the truth to power and, as a consequence, was rewarded with a martyr’s death.

John was keenly aware of who he was—and who he was not. “One mightier than I is coming after me,” John proclaimed. “I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.”

St. Mark describes for us the miracle that John the Baptist witnessed:

“It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased’ ” (Mk 1:9-11).

But even after witnessing this great epiphany at the time he baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, John could only guess at the true identity and mission of his younger cousin. Like so many of us, John needed to be told that “the blind see, the lame walk, and the poor have the Good News preached to them” (Mt 11:5) before he was ready to believe.

What the baptism in the Jordan signifies is that Jesus’ ministry is a work of the Triune God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus never acts in isolation. His words and actions are always united with the will of his Father; they are always empowered by his Holy Spirit. Jesus’ baptism inaugurates the Lord’s public ministry. From this moment on, he spends the rest of his short life on Earth preaching, healing, comforting and challenging all who have ears to hear.

The Baptism of the Lord celebrates Jesus’ humility and his holiness. He didn’t need to repent. He didn’t need to be reborn spiritually. He chose to submit himself to this ritual cleansing as a sign that this kind of action is essential for those of us, his disciples, who want to follow him. Unless we surrender ourselves to the Father’s will, and let ourselves be filled with the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit, we cannot successfully carry on the work of Jesus: proclaiming the Good News, healing others’ wounds and bringing comfort and joy to a sad and weary world.

To follow Jesus as missionary disciples, we must be humble and holy as he was. We must be servants who lead with a quiet confidence in God’s power to do things that would be impossible for us alone. St. John the Evangelist tells us that “John [the Baptist] saw Jesus approaching him, and said: ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ ” (Jn 1:29).

This humble, holy man—the “Lamb of God”—can take away the sins of the world precisely because everything he says and does is in perfect conformity to God’s will. Every miracle of healing and hope that he performs is made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Baptism of the Lord is a feast that invites us to carry forward the joy we experienced during the Christmas season. Jesus shows us the way to be his humble, holy missionary disciples. He invites us to surrender ourselves to the Father’s will, and to be filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit, so that in Jesus’ name we can bring healing and hope to all our sisters and brothers here at home and throughout the world.

As we begin this new calendar year 2021, let’s ask the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world that we experienced so intensely last year. May we all find ways to surrender our egos and be filled with God’s grace so that the healing and unity our world so desperately needs can happen in and through us.

Have a blessed New Year! †

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