Sunday, January 13, 2019

Following Jesus in Baptism

[This is an edited repeat from several years ago, but some things need regular repetition.]

Sunday: January 13, 2019 –– The Baptism of the Lord
Isaiah 40:1–5; 9–11 / Psalm 104 / Titus 2:11–14; 3:4–7 / Luke 3:15–16, 21-22
Following Jesus in Baptism

Catholic identity is grounded in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. On this Sunday the Church celebrates The Baptism of the Lord. It's an event that is recorded in all four gospels, so we know it's important. But there's a question: Why was Jesus baptized?

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, baptismal grace means forgiveness of original sin and all personal sins, and birth into the new life by which a person becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit and incorporated into the Church, the Body of Christ....  [CCC 1279].

Jesus didn't need any of those things! So, why was he baptized?

The baptism of Jesus is part of his mission, and his mission is clearly stated in the Scriptures: The angel told Joseph: he will save his people from their sins (Mtt 1:21).

How does Jesus save us? The Scriptures give more answers than I can include here. Today’s epistle reading is an extended treatise on salvation. More succinct verses tell us:

[God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2Cor 5:21).

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins (Eph 1:7).

....all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death (Rom 6:3)
This last verse makes an explicit connection of baptism with our salvation; it portrays dying to sin and rising to new life. But again, why did Jesus himself need to be baptized?

Here is the “heart” of what we need to grasp: To save us, Jesus goes ahead of us and gives us a path to follow. Particularly, in his death he was taking upon himself our death. In his resurrection Jesus destroyed the power of death. When we follow Jesus, we too die to sin and thus have the hope of resurrection to eternal life.

This is the way we understand baptism. To take our sins upon himself and die our death, Jesus submitted to baptism to take the initial step of identifying with sinners so he could take the path to the cross to be our Savior. It was one more way the Son of God humbled himself to do for us what we could never do for ourselves..

Hear what the Church says in the Catechism: “Baptism is the first and chief sacrament of forgiveness of sins because it unites us with Christ, who died for our sins and rose for our justification, so that we too might walk in newness of life” (CCC #977). This is at the heart of the historic Christian understanding of salvation: God became like us so that we could become like him. He became humanized so we could become “Divinized” (see 2 Peter 1:4). Baptism is the first step in the process of becoming a saint––truly being like Jesus!

It is important to know, however, that Baptism is not an end in itself; it is the “gateway to life in the Spirit and the door which gives access to the other sacraments” (CCC #1214, emphasis added). It is sad that not all baptized people live up to their Baptism: “the grace of Baptism delivers no one from all the weakness of nature” (CCC #978). Here is the issue for us on this day that we honor the baptism of our Lord: Am I living out of my Baptism?  

Being baptized into Jesus Christ is our highest calling. Nothing is greater than being identified with Jesus Christ. The implications are eternal.

As I progressed in my journey into the Church––as I began to understood more of the tangible things that mark Catholic life––I was pulled into the power of the Sacraments. I began to think more about my own Baptism. I came to understand that entering the church and making the sign of the cross with holy water was connected to my Baptism.

I want to renew a challenge I have given previously: Try to remember that as you enter the church, dip your finger in water, and make the sign of the cross, you are renewing your Baptism. It helps us to focus if we say a prayer––something like: I belong to you, my Lord. I give myself to you fresh and new. Let the power of your baptismal waters keep me clean and make me totally yours.

Jesus Christ gave his life for our salvation. He suffered death for every one of us. He rose from the dead to open the door of eternal life for all humanity. He initiated it all by being baptized. Christian Baptism marks who we are.

No comments:

Site Meter