January 13, 2008
BAPTISM OF THE LORD
The heavens were opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him. – Mt. 3: 16
While offering baptism for the forgiveness of sin, John seems to have recognized that there was more: by saying to our Lord, “I need to be baptized by you,” he indicates his own need for an experience of the Spirit. Indeed, there is an essential relationship between the forgiveness of sins & new life in the Spirit.
The former is the prerequisite for the latter, yet the sequence from disavowing sin to identification with the Spirit is by no means automatic. It is possible to have the former without the latter. People who focus excessively on sin without the joy that comes only from the Spirit would be a case in point. In logic one would say that forgiveness of sin is a necessary but not sufficient condition for salvation.
When the heavens are closed, God is unavailable to human experience; but in today’s Gospel the heavens are torn open, clearing the way for God’s availability. It comes in the form of a dove, recalling the dove released by Noah after the flood to confirm that it was over.
As the messenger of a new covenant, when Jesus emerged from the waters of the Jordan , we emerged from the waters of sin. I say “we” because the descending dove & the speaking sky that combine to communicate love & mission to Jesus is passed along to us through our own baptism. We are meant to see & hear what He saw & heard. Jesus is no blind guide leading the blind, but a seeing guide leading those with blurred vision.
God’s guidance IS available to us, & it always leads us to a ministry of love for others – if we are open to it:
A father came home from a very rugged day at work & said to his wife, “I’ve had a bad day. If you have any bad news tonight, please keep it to yourself.” To which she replied, “OK, no bad news. Now for the good news: remember our 4 children? Well, 3 of them didn’t break an arm today.”
That’s our problem many times in seeking God’s guidance. We really don’t want to hear Him tell it to us like it is. We literally close ourselves off to the guidance we need to live & to love in the most fulfilling way possible.
It is beautiful to see the ministry unfold from the moment of His baptism: the clear guidance, the call that comes, the confirmation, & then the ministry of Love. When we read this passage, it is not enough to understand what it meant to our Lord. We also need to think about what it means to us. Wherever we may be at this moment, whatever problems are bearing down upon us, we do have access to the Spirit, if we don’t get in the way with our own preoccupations & prejudices. AMEN!