Sunday Sermon for January 10, 2021, the Baptism of the Lord, Year B
Readings: Is 42:1-4, 6-7; Acts 10:34-38; Mk 1:7-11
In the Gospel reading today, St. Mark tells us “Jesus came from Nazareth and was baptized in the Jordan by John.” There is no commentary from the Evangelist, nothing is said about the conversation between the Baptist and our Blessed Lord, there is simply the statement that our Lord was baptized.
St. John the Baptist, as we read, had already proclaimed to the people that One mightier than he was coming and that St. John was not worthy even to stoop and loosen the thongs of His sandals. This is important for us to know because it shows us that John the Baptist was aware of Who Jesus was and that the baptism our Lord would provide for the people was far greater than the one John was administering. We see the humility of the Baptist, not only in the statements he made, but in the fact that he baptized Jesus knowing that our Lord was infinitely greater than himself.
The humility of the Baptist is superseded only by the humility of Jesus. Our Lord’s humility brought Him to the Jordan River to be baptized by John with a baptism of repentance. John’s baptism only prefigured the baptism our Lord would give us for the forgiveness of sin, a baptism far greater than the baptism He received from the hands of the Baptist.
The humility of our Lord is demonstrated most perfectly by His obedience to the will of His Father. He came into this world as a matter of humility and obedience; He left this world as a matter of humility and obedience. If these are the bookends of His life, it makes sense that everything else Jesus did was done in humility and obedience. Jesus obviously knew it was His Father’s will to receive baptism at the hands of St. John the Baptist, but St. Mark does not elaborate on the reason.
What we see from the text is that following our Lord’s baptism, the Holy Trinity was revealed. This was a divine acknowledgment of the baptism of John and pointed to the Trinitarian baptism of our Lord. St. Mark’s text leaves things rather vague in telling us only that “he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.” It is not clear whether it was Jesus or John who saw the heavens torn open. The voice that came from the heavens said: “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.”
This statement by the Father would suggest that it was Jesus Who saw the Holy Spirit descend on Himself, but this was certainly not something Jesus needed. The revelation of the Trinity has to be for us, not for our Lord. This, then, would suggest that it was St. John the Baptist who saw the heavens torn open. Beyond this, we are not told who was able to hear the voice; was it just Jesus, or did St. John and, perhaps, some of the other people in the vicinity also hear the voice?
Regardless, the revelation of the Trinity stands as a sign for everyone. This is exactly what St. Peter says in the second reading after the Holy Spirit had descended on Cornelius and his household: “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.” Every person can decide whether or not they will accept God’s self-revelation, but no matter what anyone thinks, the truth remains the truth.
The baptism of our Lord not only reveals the Holy Trinity, but reveals Jesus as the Son of God. This revelation sets the stage for the further revelation that as God and man, Jesus is the New Covenant. This insight is provided by the Church in the first reading wherein Isaiah says of the Suffering Servant/Messiah: “I formed You, and set You as a covenant of the people.” Our own baptism exceeds that of John’s because our sins are forgiven, but infinitely more than that, we are baptized into the Person of Jesus Christ. This means we become beloved sons and daughters of God, and we are initiated into the Covenant.
The Son of God, Who is the Covenant, is characterized by His humility and obedience, as we have seen. Therefore, as sons and daughters of God and members of the Covenant, we should be striving to live lives of humility and obedience. The humility we see in both John the Baptist and Jesus makes them ready to do God’s will, whether that appears menial or exalted. We need to learn from these holy Mentors to pray so we will know the will of God and open our hearts to God’s grace so we will be obedient to whatever the Lord asks. Then we will hear the Father’s voice, “with you I am well pleased.”
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.