The opening lines of the Gospel of Mark for Sunday announce the mission of John the Baptist. “John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin.”
What John is teaching is that one must let go of attitudes and actions that are contrary to the message of the Old Testament, to prepare one’s self to be open to a new and different way of living. It’s preparation for something MORE. (This is true of all of us who are baptized.) And then Jesus comes to John to be baptized.
It always seemed strange to me that Jesus would come to John to be baptized since we’ve been taught that Jesus is the sinless one. This disconnect was even clearer when John said that one greater than he is to come – Jesus. The baptism of Jesus is definitely not a turning away from sin.
When Jesus comes to John to be baptized, his emergence from the water is not a turning from sin but is a sign of his change from his hidden life to a life of ministry. Jesus emerges from the water as “…the heavens are torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.’” Obviously, Jesus is not moving on from sin, but rather, publicly beginning his new way of life with the presence and guidance of the Spirit.
What does our baptism mean to us? I’m sure most of us rarely think about our baptism and what it should mean in our everyday living.
“Catholic baptism involves pouring or sprinkling water over the candidate’s head. Baptism is understood, therefore, as the total annulment of the sins of one’s past and the emergence of a totally innocent person. The newly baptized person becomes a member of the church and is incorporated into the body of Christ, thus becoming empowered to lead the life of Christ.” Catholic Catechism
Most Catholics are baptized as infants so we have to grow into our understanding of what it means to be a baptized person. We have to learn that when the water of baptism is poured over us we will be telling the world that Jesus died for our sins, was buried and lives again. Being raised up out of the water expresses God’s love for us, our new life in Christ, and our union with Him.
Hopefully, as we grow into adulthood, and even more importantly, grow into our faith, we come to realize that we have a relationship with our loving God. Just as we deepen our human relationships through presence and sharing, so also we have to spend time developing and deepening our relationship with God. Our relationship with God occurs within the Christian community. We not only are responsible for our relationship with God but with our neighbor as
well. The responsibility of the baptized is to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. The way we live our lives is our way of preaching that gospel message or good news to others.
We read in Galatians “…In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” This is a clear message that as a baptized Christian, we are not only responsible for those close to us but for everyone with whom we come in contact. No prejudice. No racism. No preferential treatment for some and not others. The list for inclusion is long and we are not to exclude anyone. This is what a baptized Christian believes and how one acts.
As we prepare to welcome the Christ child into our world once again at Christmas, take some time to reflect on your own baptism and what it means or should mean to you.
How can you help yourself to be conscious of your baptismal responsibility?
How do you live your love of God and neighbor on a daily basis?