Traditionally, this feast of the Baptism of Jesus presents us with the 3rd epiphany or manifestation of our Lord: His birth, the adoration by the Magi and now the baptism by John in the River Jordan – (which today is so polluted John would have second thoughts about stepping in). But, next Sunday we will see a 4th manifestation at the Wedding in Cana when water is changed into wine. In these latter two moments Jesus passed from relative obscurity in the village in Nazareth onto the public stage of his mission of proclaiming the God’s Kingdom. It was, so to speak, His coming out party – that led eventually to his crucifixion and death.
This is an event that made it into all four Gospels – every author of every gospel found this event so inspiring and important that it was included. It’s an unusual story because there doesn’t seem to be any reason for Jesus to be baptized. For three and a half years, he did His thing and it ended with crucifixion. His baptism was the inauguration of that process. It was an act of humility to submit to John’s baptism in the presence the people. It was a commitment to His Father’s plan. And this event was a baptism of identification: Jesus affirmed his Cousin John’s ministry and identified Himself with the people He’d come to save.
Our baptism is also about humility, commitment, identification and obedience: that’s really what it is all about. When people witness a baptism their expectation level goes way up. The same is true when they witness a profession of religious vows or an ordination of a deacon or to the priesthood. People expect the one making the commitment to walk the talk. Just like Jesus who was baptized to identify with us, we’re committed to identify with Him.
An understanding of baptism is really important to us as Christians, as Catholic Christians. It is doubly important to us as religious to comprehend the dimensions of this commitment because our pledge in vows is an extension of our baptismal promises – whether spoken by or for us. The former understanding of the theology of the vows referred to religious profession as a “second baptism” and thus a new name was imposed. The final vow profession ceremony had the newly professed rising from under the funeral pall symbolically to a new life – the new life originally conferred on us in baptism. With a clearer understanding of baptism and the theology of the vows all that has changed.
Do you remember what happened when Jesus came out of the water? “The heavens were opened and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove coming down on Him. And there came a voice from heaven: ‘This is my beloved Son in whom I take great delight’.” Humble obedience and commitment and identification with God always lead to His affirmation – usually not as dramatically as with Jesus – but it happens, always!
Simply put: Baptism is not just about where you find Jesus. What is important is what you do once you’ve found Him. It opens up to us the possibility of finding God. But it does not guarantee it. It makes it a possibility, not a promise. At best, (just like our vows) it’s a means, not the end. It’s not where we find Jesus, it’s what we do after we’ve found Him.
Have you heard the story about the poor wandering soul who stumbled upon a baptismal service one Sunday afternoon. This was a “down by the river” sort of baptism. It was down south, back in the day, and this guy walked right down into the water and stood next to the Preacher. The minister finally noticed the older gent and asked, “Are you ready to find Jesus?” “Yes, Preacher. I sure am.” The minister then dunked the fellow under the water and pulled him right back up.
“Have you found Jesus?” “No, I haven’t!” The preacher then dunked him under for a bit longer, brought him up and said, “Now, brother, have you found Jesus?” “No, I haven’t, Preacher.” The preacher in disgust held the man under for at least 30 seconds this time, brought him out of the water and said in a harsh tone, “Friend, are you sure you haven’t found Jesus yet?” The old man wiped his eyes gasping for breath and said to the preacher, “Naw, preacher, are you sure this is where he fell in?”