A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

Recently, the church celebrated the feast of the baptism of Jesus.  (Luke 3:15-22).  This feast ends the Christmas season, namely:  Advent (preparing for the future coming of Jesus); Christmas (his physical arrival); Epiphany (which means manifestation.)  Manifestation to outsiders here indicates the magi from the East, namely non-Jews.  And in Luke’s gospel the baptism of Jesus also celebrates the beginning of his public ministry.

In order to understand the feast, a little background is necessary.  John is baptizing many people in the river Jordan.  Many folk seem to think that he is the Messiah because of his impressive activities.  He says that he is not the Messiah but begins to speak of Jesus who turns out to be the actual Messiah.

A major difference between John and Jesus is the manner by which each baptizes.  John’s baptism is by water and Jesus’ is by the Holy Spirit and fire. What does this difference mean?

John’s baptism by water means that there is an admission of sin which is why John calls for penance before baptism.  This form of baptism seems to be external. Water symbolizes the cleansing agent

Jesus’ baptism by the Holy Spirit and fire quite likely has the reference to Pentecost where the Holy Spirit came down upon some of the disciples in the form of fire.  (Acts 2:1-4)  This “baptism” gave the recipients the energy and motivation to proclaim to others the message of Jesus.  This form of baptism seems to be internal, in terms of the motivation provided.  And each time that justice, compassion, forgiveness, is performed this process can be called  being “born again.”

And what was the message of Jesus?  A careful reading of the gospels would show us that this new life of baptism makes possible Jesus’ ministry of justice, compassion, forgiveness, understanding, and all the other virtues Jesus manifested to others.  This kind of baptism could be considered internal in the sense that the Holy Spirit provides motivation for relating to others as Jesus did.

A second major theme of the day’s gospel is the very notion of Jesus’ own baptism.  While Jesus was in the water praying, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove (significant symbol), and a voice from above said, “You are my Son, the Beloved.  With you I am well pleased.”  That is to say, that at Jesus’ baptism the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit established a presence.

What does this mean?  I would suspect that as Jesus was about to begin his public ministry after his baptism,  he was accompanied by the Father and the Holy Spirit.  It seems that at our own baptism the same thing happens to us.

This can be an important lesson for us today. When we are baptized two things happen.  First, we all becomes members of God’s family (Gen. 1:27).  Second, since all the other people are our brothers and sisters, we have a serious responsibility to protect them.  We do this by realizing that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are accompanying us while we visibly proclaim Jesus’ message to others, namely that of peace, justice, forgiveness, and compassion.

Family membership with God and Trinitarian accompaniment during our relationship with others, will remind us that every thought, gesture, or action that we do to our brothers and sisters will be a way of letting us know that our baptism actually means something.  It’s a way of being “born again.”

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