Baptism, our "yes" to God and neighbor

Al Cariño
Reproduced with Permission

The mystery that is Jesus, the Son of God, is revealed to us in three stages. First, at His birth, the angels reveal Him to the shepherds as the long Awaited One. Second, at His Epiphany, Jesus is revealed as the Light to the nations through the Magi. Third, at His baptism, Jesus is given the go-signal to start His mission.

The gospel reading (Lk. 3:15-16, 21-22) talks about this third stage. Luke has Jesus pray after His baptism. Just as He has Him pray before He made important decisions. Jesus' baptism was thus an important moment in His life. For it was the moment when He received a clear awareness of the great mission given Him by the Father.

Luke also tells us that after Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit in bodily form like a dove, descended upon Him. Then a voice coming from heaven was heard, saying, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." With this, the Father gives His seal of approval to His Son and His credentials: He is the Beloved Son of the Father, the Anointed of the Holy Spirit.

The baptism of John was a simple ritual of being washed with water. John baptized those who wanted to straighten out their lives. For them, baptism was a way of expressing publicly their promises to reform their lives. But as all of us are just too aware of promises, they are fallible and insufficient to eradicate the root of evil from our hearts. Thus, those baptized by John still needed Jesus' baptism of the "Holy Spirit and fire."

Jesus, being the Son of God, did not need repentance. Being the Savior, He wanted to be with sinners seeking forgiveness. He submitted to John's baptism to show His willingness to truly share our human condition - to be in union and solidarity with us, sinful human being, to be like us in all things except sin. Thus, His baptism was a "yes" to humankind, a "yes" to us. On our part, we should view our own baptism as our 'yes' to the ever loving and forgiving God.

Moreover, Jesus accepted John's baptism to express His "yes" to serve people. This was one step farther than His "yes" when He "became flesh and dwelt among us." His public life that followed the baptism during which He went about "doing good," was the fulfillment of that "yes" to be of service to others.

We have been baptized in Jesus' name. Baptism is the first of the Sacraments of Initiation. It is so basic to our spiritual life that it is a kind of second birthday. Jesus explained it to Nicodemus as being "born again" (Jn. 3:3). In fact, the early Christians celebrated their baptismal anniversaries rather than their birthdays.

Unlike Jesus, we need baptism - to cleanse us of our sins and to share in His divine life. But since our baptism also symbolizes our unity and solidarity with Jesus, we should view it not only as the time when we share in the divine life but also as our empowerment to carry out our commitment to serve others, especially those who are most in need. Thus, through our baptism, we become partners of Christ in His saving mission.

Because of this partnership, no life is meaningless. Every person is called to a mission, to a form of service to others. For most of us, this consists in the task of being a hardworking father and breadwinner, a caring mother and homemaker, a loving and dutiful son or daughter, a serious student. Our life situation being our fundamental mission, we must carry it out the best way we can. Moreover, because of our unity and solidarity with Christ through our baptism, everything we do, even the least, becomes an act of service to our neighbor which ultimately brings us closer to our salvation.

This includes the disabled or bedridden person who can no longer do anything and therefore feel useless. Is it not a fact that some of us have asked sick people to offer their sufferings for some special intention and this with unbelievable results? For sickness and suffering accepted in faith and love contributes to the saving work of Christ and the building up of God's Kingdom. Moreover, because the sick and those who suffer deserved the special attention of Jesus (He healed many sick persons), our baptism calls us to show them our special concern. Thus we should not only pray for their healing but also attend to their needs.

To live as a baptized Christian is no joke. Being baptized not only means that we begin to share in the divine life of Jesus but it also means that we share in His mission. Jesus devoted His life in the service of others, especially the most abandoned. As His followers, we are to do no less.