Sunday, January 10, 2010

Baptized for Our Sake

During Lent, as we approach Good Friday, the Lectionary leads us, in the gospel selections for the weekday mass, through progressive miracles performed by Jesus in the Gospel of John and His conflict with the Pharisees. As I followed along last year, I couldn’t help but wonder where I would have found myself. The man Jesus was teaching some pretty radical things and making appeals to authority to which no man could claim. My conclusion at that time was that the raising of Lazarus would have been a game changer for me. I might have had doubts before that, but certainly not after.

Today, the Church brings to a close the Christmas season by celebrating the Baptism of Our Lord. In the events of the Baptism, we see a public manifestation of God the Father recognizing in Jesus the authority that he already possessed. Some might argue that, on a human level, Jesus didn’t know his mission until after his Baptism. Pope Benedict XVI, however, warns against trying to psychoanalyze our Lord and the impact that his baptism by John had upon his self-awareness. “The texts give us no window into Jesus’ inner life – Jesus stands above our psychologizing.”

Imagine being present in the crowd that day. John was widely regarded to be an authentic prophet, the likes of which hadn’t been seen in Israel hundreds of years. John himself not only denied that he was the Christ, but testified that another was coming who was much greater than he. John was not fit to untie the thong of his sandal, and he would baptize with the fire and the spirit, rather than with the mere water that John used. One day, while baptizing in the Jordan, a man comes out with the crowds, and John says, “Behold the lamb of God!” The man wants John to baptize him, and John tries to demur, saying, “I need to be baptized by you!” The man insists, and John obeys. Then something truly amazing happens. The heavens open, and the spirit of God visibly descends upon the man, and a voice from heaven declares the man his Son!

All four gospels are in agreement regarding the phenomena that accompanied the Baptism of Jesus. For a person present at the Baptism, it would not have been so hard to accept the controversial claims of the man Jesus. It would not have taken the raising of Lazarus. My personal conclusion is that the descent of the Holy Spirit and the affirmation of the Father were not for the sake of the Son. The Son knew who he was, but no one else did. It had been thirty years since the angels announced the birth of the messiah to the shepherds and the magi had brought him gifts. Now that he was to begin his public ministry, it was necessary to renew his divine certification.

Whenever I purchase gasoline, the pump is marked with the Auditor’s seal. The presence of the seal certifies that I’m getting what I think I’m getting. Placing the seal on the pump does not change the way the pump works, and it doesn’t change what comes out of the nozzle. It gives me confidence that it is what it says it is. In the same way, the dove and the voice after Jesus’ Baptism gave those who witnessed it confidence that Jesus was who he said he was.

Jesus didn’t need the Baptism, we did.

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