Tuesday, May 31, 2016

20 Mysteries: Jesus is Baptized

Matthew 3:13-17:

[1] And in those days cometh John the Baptist preaching in the desert of Judea. [2] And saying: Do penance: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. [3] For this is he that was spoken of by Isaias the prophet, saying: A voice of one crying in the desert, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. [4] And the same John had his garment of camels' hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins: and his meat was locusts and wild honey. [5] Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea, and all the country about Jordan: 
[6] And were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. [7] And seeing many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them: Ye brood of vipers, who hath shewed you to flee from the wrath to come? [8] Bring forth therefore fruit worthy of penance. [9] And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham for our father. For I tell you that God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham. [10] For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that doth not yield good fruit, shall be cut down, and cast into the fire.

[11] I indeed baptize you in the water unto penance, but he that shall come after me, is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; he shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost and fire. [12] Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his floor and gather his wheat into the barn; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. [13] Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to the Jordan, unto John, to be baptized by him. [14] But John stayed him, saying: I ought to be baptized by thee, and comest thou to me? [15] And Jesus answering, said to him: Suffer it to be so now. For so it becometh us to fulfill all justice. Then he suffered him.
[16] And Jesus being baptized, forthwith came out of the water: and lo, the heavens were opened to him: and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon him. [17] And behold a voice from heaven, saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

Mark 1:9-11:

[9] And it came to pass, in those days, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. [10] And forthwith coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit as a dove descending, and remaining on him. 
[11] And there came a voice from heaven: Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.

Luke 3:21-22:

[21] Now it came to pass, when all the people were baptized, that Jesus also being baptized and praying, heaven was opened; [22] And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape, as a dove upon him; and a voice came from heaven: Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

We now move into the Luminous Mysteries, the five Mysteries of the Rosary that Pope St. John Paul II added to the traditional fifteen. These mysteries are called Luminous because these reveal in a new way the mission of Jesus. They encompass the whole of Jesus' teaching ministry right up to His Passion. Chronologically, these follow immediately after the Joyful Mysteries, which ended with Jesus being found in the Temple by Mary and Joseph during the last year of His childhood.

All of the Gospels include the Baptist, John's testimony regarding Jesus, but only the Gospel of John (different John) doesn't record Jesus' actual baptism. Nevertheless, John the Baptist, in all four Gospels, declares that, though he (John) only baptizes with water, there would be one who will come who will baptize with the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of God.

John's Baptism

It might be strange for many readers to encounter John baptizing people in the Jordan when the Sacrament of Baptism hadn't yet been established. Sure, you might think that John understood the baptism to come, and this was a presage of Jesus' baptism, but that wouldn't answer why so many Jews were going to John for baptism.

The reason one might think it strange is because prior to the Gospels, we don't see the word "baptize" anywhere. It's not part of the Old Testament. But if that were true, then why are so many Jews participating in this activity, if for them it had no historical, traditional meaning? The answer is, quite simply, that there baptism was part of Jewish tradition, just not the kind of baptism we see in Christianity.

Do you remember the purification laws I referenced back when I was talking about Jesus' presentation in the Temple? Both women and children, immediately after childbirth, were considered unclean for a period of time. Well, the Jews had many purity laws. For example, if you came in contact with a corpse, you were considered unclean until you had completed the purification rituals. Another example would be if one had sinned, broken the Law, he would be considered unclean until having completed the purification rituals.

For many, but certainly not all, instances of uncleanness, washing in the Jordan was part of the ritual requirements for purification. A "baptism" of sorts.

Now notice, in Matthew 3:2, John says "do penance." Moreover, in Matthew 3:6, we see that those being baptized were confessing their sins. What we are seeing here is part of the ritual purification process involved in turning away from sins and becoming clean again, under the Law.

However, John's baptism was for Israel itself in order that the nation might "prepare the way of the Lord." He was specifically preparing the people for Jesus' coming, that they might be disposed to hear Him, and that they might be found worthy in His eyes. "For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that doth not yield good fruit, shall be cut down, and cast into the fire."

Jesus' Baptism

When Jesus comes to be baptized, John is hesitant, because He knows Jesus is far beyond need of purification. He is "mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear." Nevertheless, Jesus insists. And here we witness all three Persons of the Trinity: The Father, who speaks, saying "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." The Son, Jesus, about whom the Father is speaking, who is being baptized. The Holy Spirit, who descends from the Father to the Son in the form of a dove.

There is much here about which we may speak.

The Father

The Father's words here repudiate anyone who thinks that because Jesus insisted He be baptized, He therefore needed baptism for Himself. To the contrary, the Father says of Jesus that He is "well pleased." In other words, Jesus is already righteous. If He were not, the Father could not have said this, since unrighteousness is not pleasing to God.

Moreover, we have witness from God, Himself, that Jesus is His "Son." And not just any son, as we might think of the sons of God from the Old Testament, but rather, His "Beloved Son." This beloved-ness signifies a particular uniqueness of Son-ship that belongs to Jesus alone.

The Holy Spirit

As attested by John the Baptist, Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Now, this is strange, because John is the one who is baptizing Jesus here, and the witness is that the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus during this baptism. In fact, I'm pretty sure we don't ever see Jesus baptizing anyone in the Gospels, which might seem to contradict what John the Baptist prophesied about Him. I'll get to this, but for now I want to say a brief word about the Holy Spirit in this scene.

The Holy Spirit is seen coming out of heaven "descending" on Jesus in the form of a dove. The dove has wide significance in the Old Testament. In Genesis, this was the bird sent out of the Ark after the flood to find dry land. Therefore, coming as a dove ties Jesus' baptism to the Flood: a sign of death, chastisement, and new creation. Having this sign, a Baptism of the Deluge, open Jesus' ministry signals to us that this is a saving (for those who climb aboard the Ark), and at the same time damning (for those who refuse the Ark) work.

"He shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost and fire."

There is a lot more I could say about the Dove, but I'm going to leave it at that for now.

The Son

In the baptism of Jesus, there is an immediate agent, and a principal actor. What do I mean by this? Remember that John prophesied about Jesus, that He would baptize with the Holy Spirit? Now, we see the Holy Spirit involved in Jesus' own baptism, being enacted by John, and we never actually see Jesus baptizing anyone in the Gospels. What this signifies is that Jesus baptizes through the baptismal actions of others. That is to say, John is the immediate agent of the baptism here, but Jesus is the principal actor, the one who is actually accomplishing the baptismal action.

And this is how we understand all of Jesus' Sacramental (that is, holy-making) work. In baptism, it is not you or I, or the priest, who accomplishes the baptismal work (of cleansing the soul from sin, as a continuation of the Jewish purity laws), but Jesus, through us. So, it is this scene that we understand to be the institution of the Baptismal Sacrament.

The Catholic understanding of such Sacramental works is that, Jesus being the infinite, Eternal Almighty, is capable of making present His saving and sanctifying work to us through time, and in unity with Him. That is, He makes present to us His own baptism through time such that we become one with Him, in His humanity, and receive the Holy Spirit as a single action taking place in that day and time, 2000 years ago.

This is why John is able to say that it is Jesus baptizes who with water and the Holy Spirit, and at the same time be the immediate agent of that action in Jesus' own life. The Eternal Being of God unites all things across space and time and substance.

Thanks for reading, and God bless!

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