2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Last week we spoke about how Epiphany means "manifestation," or a making known. When the magi came to adore the newborn Christ, it was a manifestation of Jesus' universal kingship beyond the Jewish nation to the rest of the world. Traditionally, the feast of the Epiphany has been linked with two other events in the lift of Christ: the wedding at Cana and Jesus' baptism by John in the Jordan. Each of these events represent a manifestation of the Messiah.
At the wedding feast in Cana, recorded in John's gospel, Jesus turns water into wine. This is His first public miracle, by which Jesus makes Himself known. John writes, "Jesus did this as the beginning of His signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed His glory, and His disciples began to believe in Him" (Jn 2:11).
This past Monday we celebrated the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, and in this Sunday's readings we hear John give account of that baptism. "I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon Him... Now I have seen and testified that He is the Son of God" (Jn 1:32-34). John's words call to mind the passage from Matthew's gospel that we read last Monday, recounting the Spirit descending upon Jesus like a dove, and the Father's voice saying, "This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased" (Mt 3:17).
There is an ancient heresy called Adoptionism which holds that at this moment Jesus was "adopted" by God as His Son, and became the Messiah. This is not true. The Church condemns this position, teaching instead that Jesus was always the Son of God, from all eternity. At His baptism God the Father does not "adopt" Jesus by these words, but proclaims for all who can hear what has always been true.
If Jesus was not adopted as God's Son at His baptism, we might ask, What was the point? What exactly was going on when Jesus was baptized?
When you and I are baptized, several things happen. We are cleansed from original sin. We receive God's sanctifying grace. We are united to Christ's death and resurrection, dying to our self and rising again a new creation. None of these things are applicable to Jesus. Jesus is totally without sin. Jesus is the source of grace. He is the resurrection and the life. Jesus's baptism was obviously for a different purpose than our own.
So why was Jesus baptized? Theologians have put forth several different possible reasons. One suggestion is that He did it as a model for us to follow. Certainly in His baptism Christ sanctified the waters of the earth and instituted the sacrament of baptism as we know it, opening for us this channel of grace. One thing we know for certain -- Christ was not baptized for Himself, but for us.
When John sees Jesus in our gospel reading, he says the same words that the priest says to us today before offering us the Eucharist at Mass. "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (Jn 1:29). St. Paul teaches that Jesus, who was without sin, "became sin on our behalf" so that we might become righteous (1 Cor 5:21).
When the One who is without sin is baptized for the forgiveness of sin, it prefigures the suffering and death that the One who is without sin will later undergo as punishment for our sin. Christ rising from the waters of the Jordan prefigures His rising from the tomb. Christ's Baptism is therefore a manifestation of His mission -- His mission of salvation, His mission of dying and rising for the sake of us sinners.
John the Baptist says that the reason he baptized the Christ "was that He might be made known to Israel" (Jn 1:31). But that knowledge is of no benefit to us unless we act on it. When we are baptized, we follow Christ into the waters of the Jordan and join ourselves to His work of redemption; we are joined to His suffering and death; we are joined to His resurrection and life.
But baptism for us is only the beginning of our Christian journey, just as Christ's baptism marked the beginning of His ministry. Each day of our lives we have the opportunity to live united with Christ, making His mercy manifest in our lives, making Him known to others, and by so doing growing in holiness until that day when we join Christ in death and the hope of eternal resurrection.