Baptised for Mission
Baptism of the Lord. Fr Isidore Clarke recalls that we, like Christ, are baptised into the mission of spreading God’s light to the nations.
In 2002 Pope John Paul II introduced five new mysteries of the Rosary, which he called the Luminous Mysteries. These cover Christ’s public ministry from his baptism to his Passion. During that period Jesus showed himself as the definitive revelation of God. He announced the coming of God’s kingdom and what he required of us if we were to enter it. Jesus is the light of the world, who had come to show us the way to the Father. In each of the Luminous Mysteries Jesus throws light, during his public ministry, on God’s plan of salvation.
The Baptism of the Lord is the first of the Luminous Mysteries and marks the beginning of Christ’s public ministry. With his baptism Jesus leaves the private, domestic life at Nazareth, and sets out to proclaim God’s salvation for the world.
Already John the Baptism had begun to prepare the way for Christ’s coming. He preached a baptism of repentance, which generated a great atmosphere of excitement and expectation.
What John hadn’t expected was that Jesus himself should ask to be baptised. After all, baptism was meant to prepare other people, who were sinners, for Christ’s coming; and he was no sinner. But Jesus insisted on being baptised. He wanted to identify with the whole of sinful humanity, to carry and remove the burden of our guilt.
Then, immediately after his baptism, something remarkable happened. The Spirit of God rested upon Jesus, in the form of a dove — the symbol of the peace God brought to the chaotic, destructive waters of the flood. Jesus came to bring peace to our chaotic, troubled lives. He wanted to enable us to make a fresh start.
And the Father’s voice from heaven proclaimed
This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.
These words echo those of the first reading, in which Isaiah tells us that God has appointed his servant to be a ‘light of the nations.’ His mission would be to ‘open the eyes of the blind, to free captives from prison, and those who live in darkness from the dungeon.’ Jesus would fulfil the role of the Suffering Servant of the Lord, who would be exalted in sacrificing his life for the salvation of the nations.
At Christ’s baptism the Father commissioned Jesus to act and speak in his name and with his divine authority. In the power of the Spirit he would proclaim the Good News of salvation. Christ’s baptism prepared him for this mission.
Today’s feast celebrates not just Christ’s baptism, but ours. Through our baptism we have been born from above — from God — and have become the children of God. Just as Jesus shared our human life through his birth at Bethlehem, so we share his divine life through our birth at baptism. We become God’s beloved sons or daughters, with whom he is well pleased.
Christ’s baptism and ours prepare us for mission. We are not simply called to a private, cosy relationship between each of us and God; rather our baptism commissions us to share the faith we have received. Like Jesus, we are meant to be luminous — lights revealing the glory of God and the power of his salvation. Like Jesus we are called to dispel the darkness of ignorance and error. If we live up to our vocation God will, indeed, be able to say, ‘This is my beloved son or daughter, with whom I am well pleased.’
A final point, which we can easily overlook. When God calls us to carry out any task he always gives us the strength to do it. After Christ’s baptism Jesus prepared for his mission by spending forty days praying in the desert. His whole ministry formed a rhythm of preaching and healing, punctuated by long periods of prayer. This should remind us that we cannot be faithful to our baptismal mission without God’s help, which we must seek in prayer. The greatest mistake we could make would be for us to try do God’s work without his assistance.