Readings: Is. 42:1-4, 6-7; Acts. 10:34-38; Mk. 1:7-11
When Do We Graduate From Religious Education?
1. The Penny Catechism defines Baptism as “A Sacrament which cleanses us from original sin, makes us Christians, children of God, and members of the Church. It forgives actual sins, with all punishment due to them, when it is received in proper dispositions by those who have been guilty of actual sin.” (Nos. 256, 257). Baptism permanently relates us to God and is necessary for salvation, it imprints an indelible character on our souls and can be received only once. Through Baptism we are conferred with sanctifying grace, that makes us part of the Body of Christ. It is the first sacrament of Christian initiation which is completed with the sacraments of Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist. Therefore, one cannot receive any other sacrament validly without having received the sacrament of Baptism. Baptism was instituted by Christ when he was baptized by John the Baptist and when he commanded his apostles to go and baptize all nations in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. (Mt. 28:19). Christ warned: “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (Jn. 3:5).
2. Last Sunday was the solemnity of the Epiphany of Jesus. Today we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus. At the Epiphany, Jesus was manifested as the light and savior of the gentiles. At his baptism, God the Father acknowledged him “You are my beloved Son; with whom I am well pleased.” (Mk. 1:8). We too are incorporated into the body of Christ through baptism and God takes great delight in us, therefore, we can also function in persona Christi. But the baptism of Jesus was not sacramental baptism, Christ had no sin and therefore had no need for baptism. John acknowledged this fact when he argued and tried to prevent Jesus from receiving baptism from him, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” (Mt. 3:14). One of the reasons that Jesus permitted himself to be baptized by John, though he had no sin, was so that he could identify himself with sinful humanity. His mission was precisely to be one of calling sinners into the kingdom. “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Mk. 2:17). The baptism of Jesus made him sympathetic with the people he was sent to save. By humbling himself and identifying with his people he demonstrated that he was one of them, except sin. He understood them and was ready to lead them back to the Father.
3. The baptism of Jesus could be seen, as most early Church Fathers did, as symbolic institution of the Christian sacrament of baptism. The basis for this is the appearance of the three persons of the Trinity in the baptismal scene. The voice of the Father and the descent of the Spirit on the Son would symbolize the baptism “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Mt. 28:19). We can only begin to enjoy our life with Christ after the sacrament of baptism. And so, the first reading of today invites us, “All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!” We must seek the Lord while he may be found. Postponing our search may be too late. This is the time to experience the joy of knowing Christ as our supreme source of joy.
4. The second reading from the Acts of the Apostles indicates the importance of Jesus’ ministry. Peter sums up the whole ministry in three ‘events.’ The baptism, doing good and healing the sick, and the death and resurrection. Jesus’ public life began with his baptism. John preaches “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” This was part of the acceptance and inauguration of his mission as God’s suffering Servant. He allows himself to be numbered among sinners; he is already the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Already he is anticipating the “baptism” of his bloody death. Already he is coming to “fulfill all righteousness,” that is he is submitting himself entirely to his Father’s will: out of love he consents to this baptism of death for the remission of our sins. The Father’s voice responds to the Son’s acceptance, proclaiming his entire delight in his Son. The Spirit whom Jesus possessed in fullness from his conception comes to “rest on him.” Jesus will be the source of the Spirit for all mankind. At his baptism “the heavens were opened” the heavens that Adam’s sin had closed – and the waters were sanctified by the descent of Jesus and the Spirit, a prelude to the new creation.” (CCC 536).
5. After the baptism of Jesus, he inaugurated his mission and began the work of initiating a new kingdom of peace, justice and love. The Spirit that he received gave him his mission. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Lk. 4:18). This too, dear friends, is our mission. We received the Spirit of adoption on the day of our baptism, like St. Paul reminds us: “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba Farther!” The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” (Rom. 8:15-17). Our baptism empowered us to be like Christ, to say, “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.” (Gal. 2:20). This Spirit enables us to be compassionate, merciful, kind, forgiving and loving. Through it we begin to see one another through the lens of Christ. To do what we have been told, “You have been told, O man what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8).
6. So, just as Jesus began his public ministry after his baptism, our religious education and ministries in the Church began on the day we received our own baptism too. This sacrament initiated us into the life of grace with sanctifying grace which disposes us to receive the other graces God offers and to make use of them to live holy lives. Our religious education does not end with the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation, the sacrament of initiation should make us grow rather stronger in our zeal for the Lord and in our desire to further his kingdom here on earth. Christ worked zealously for the kingdom till his last breath. We too should be about the work of God till the end. The Spirit of God that we received at our baptism helps us to reject Satan, all his works and all his empty promises. May we be encouraged to live holy lives and be the eyes, hands and feet of Jesus in our world for others. Amen.
Rev. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP