THE FIRST SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY:
THE BAPTISM OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST
January 10, 2021: The First Sunday After the Epiphany
Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-38; Mark 1:4-11
Bishop Ariel P. Santos
This is the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord. The question is: why did Jesus, the sinless One, need to go to John who preached the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin?
Two things happened in the baptism of our Lord. There was a dove that came down from heaven and a voice that was heard that said, “You are My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” In the Roman religion at that time, they were into reading omens or signs called augury, and they had priests, prophets and seers who interpreted these things. Such that if they see an eagle that represented the Roman characteristic of might, strength, and violence hovering their emperor, they would say, “Look, the gods are putting their seal of approval on our emperor. He is indeed the son of god, in whom the gods are well pleased.”
In Mark and the other gospel writers, they describe the baptism of Jesus with the dove and the voice that I mentioned. The gospel of Mark was written in Rome and was written just after Peter and Paul were executed. The readers of Mark’s gospel would understand what he was writing about. Mark emphasized that it was a dove, not an eagle, that hovered over Jesus and that the voice of the true God spoke, “This is the true Son of God and this is the spirit that He will operating on.” Jesus is not an eagle or a predator. A dimly burning wick, He will not extinguish and a bruise reed, He will not break.
Jesus was not like the Pharisees who looked down on simple people whom they break, extinguish, and condemn. It has a subversive message saying, “Caesar is not the true emperor or the new king. There is a King and His kingdom is characterized not by brute force or might but by service and advocacy.” It was a dove not an eagle. It was now a different kingdom that was being established – a kingdom of peace, gentleness, service and humility. It was not war or violence or preying on people.
God said, “This is My beloved Son. By Him reigning as King – a gentle king, a peaceful king; I am pleased with this.” This is the same message being conveyed on Palm Sunday as illustrated in Jesus riding on a donkey instead of a warhorse. We should also understand why Jesus is portrayed as a Lamb in the Book of Revelation in the midst of all the beasts whose empires and kingdoms crumbled. This is because the everlasting Kingdom is built on gentleness, meekness, and humility for the humble shall inherit the earth. The violent will pass away and the wicked will be no more. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of peace and service, not accusations and condemnations. Understand these and live accordingly.
We were baptized because we vowed to follow a Lord Whom we have – saving and being our Advocate; supporting and encouraging us; and helping us in our problems. Why was Jesus baptized? Being sinless, He identified with us by making Himself one with us. He empathized with us. He serves, helps, blesses and doesn’t lord it over. He didn’t take advantage and prey on others. Although He was sinless, He made us one with Him and even embraced our sin. He joined us in our confession: “We confess that we have sinned against You, God.” He did not say, “I have sinned against You,” because He did not sin but He joined us with Him. Jesus who knew no sin became sin for us.
In the Eucharist, we who are in the Sanctuary pray the Prayer for Receiving Spiritual Communion because we are in unity and in solidarity with those who are not present; we make ourselves one with them. We don’t need to pray this but we do and we become with them. Jesus made Himself one with us and this pleased God.
John the Baptist was very popular. All of Jerusalem and all the surrounding districts of Judea came to him to hear him preach his message of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. Many came to him – sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes and soldiers – and they asked John what they could do in order to be saved. He said, “If you have two tunics, share one with those who don’t have. Likewise, if you have food, share it. To the soldiers, don’t extort money. To the tax collectors, don’t collect more than what it is needed and be content with their wages.
Not only did the sinners go to John, but also the religious leaders. They did go to him to be baptized. In the gospel of Luke, it said that the Pharisees rejected God’s purpose for them by rejecting the baptism of John. In the gospel of Matthew, it narrates the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus asking Him whether they need to pay taxes and on what authority Jesus do things? Jesus asked them, “Let Me ask you about the baptism of John.” The Pharisees did not answer it because they said that if it is from God, then, they would be asked, “Why didn’t you go to Him for baptism?” They went to Him anyway and I could picture them standing not joining the rest of the simple people or having their bodies or their robes dirtied by the waters of Jordan River. They were standing on the shore, aloof, dissociated, distanced, and distinguished from sinners to make sure the sinful, inferior people repented so that they could be righteous like they were. They did not want to be identified with the sinners, and Jesus called them hypocrites because they are with sin.
The one person who had the right to point fingers and accused people did not do so. Instead, Jesus joined them in the problem. He joined them in the river, in washing their sins even if He had no sin. This pleased God. The dove did not come upon the Pharisees – not approving their attitude. It was on Jesus that the dove came down on and it was Jesus whom the Father said that He was pleased.
If we distinguish or detached ourselves from others or point our fingers and say that we are better than them, then, we are having the attitude of the Pharisees. Sometimes, we say, “Amen” or “Preach it” when others are on fire to preach against sin, we think, “Preach it for others need to hear it. I don’t need it!” Repentance is not for the “righteous me” but for the “sinful them.” This is when division or divorce happens: when people think they’re better than others and they deserve a better environment something better than what God gave. “I will leave you on your Jordan River and go to my own haven.’ This is the attitude of the Pharisees: “I am not a fault; they are. I am right; they are wrong.” Jesus, the only One Person that could say this, did not.
A dimly burning wick, Jesus doesn’t extinguish. A bruised reed, He doesn’t break. Instead, Jesus encourages and strengthens them. He acknowledges their sin but He helps them out of it. He owned our problem even though it wasn’t His problem so that He could join us and overcome the problem. He did not exonerate Himself or acquit Himself. He didn’t implicate us; He did not point fingers. He did not sentence us to eternal damnation. What Jesus did was what St. Paul said, “He stripped Himself of His glory, of His privileges, of His rights because of our sin. We should at least stripped ourselves off our pride and self-righteousness and be in solidarity with our brothers – our weak, sinful brothers. Instead of pointing fingers at them, we identify with them and help them and we become their advocates not their accusers. Jesus was not ashamed to call them His brothers even if they were sinful. He made Himself one with us.
Interestingly, chapter three of St. Luke begins with him identifying the political and the religious leaders and all the movers and shakers of that time and his message was: these powers will be replaced by Jesus and their ways will be replaced by His ways.
It was a dove, not eagle; a donkey, not a warhorse; a lamb, not a beast. This is our Lord. When we say Lord, we follow Him. We don’t follow the eagle ways of empire preying on people and taking advantage of them. Jesus did not condemn and kill like an eagle and a beast but He restores and He saves, and this pleases God!
Would you like to please God? Then, be like Jesus. The message of Jesus’ baptism is: we please God by having His attitude – not condemning even if we think we have a right to justify our accusations. If people are sinful and are guilty, we identify with them because we are one with them. They are brothers and we recognize them not according to the weakness of their flesh, but according to what God made them to be – a new creation. This is Jesus’ spirit, this is His work and this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.