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2016-01-10 The Baptism of Jesus

The Baptism of Jesus

The Baptism of the Jewish people and of Jesus was, in its day, something utterly unique as a form of belonging and identity. The Jews couldn't understand its origin when Jesus asked them where John's baptism came from. 'Was it from God or from man?'

For the Jewish people, Circumcision was the proper means of belonging to the Jewish faith. It was akin to the tribal marks cut into the skin of more primitive peoples as a means of identity.

The unique difference between the old means of belonging to the faith by circumcision and that of belonging to the faith by Baptism was that baptism ushered in the forgiveness of sins, not by the slaughter of animals, as in the old faith, but by the ultimate sacrifice of Christ which was the very purpose of his coming to earth.

We need to clarify here that although Jesus Christ was both God and man, it was not God that was baptised in his son. That would be paramount to Blasphemy since there could be no sin in God. It is the flesh and imperfection in fallen man that needs to be purged or purified from sin. Jesus takes all human sin on himself in the flesh in an absolute way. He takes on our fallen state in order to redeem it. That becomes the function and purpose of his crucifixion.

Jesus said of the old rite of circumcision that to be effective it must take place in the heart. Put another way, a true Jew is brought about by an internal quality. He or she practiced what being a loyal Jew demanded, a closeness to God brought about by loving God and neighbour. Circumcision was meant to be away of life not simply a ritual marking of belonging.

Christian Baptism is exactly the same. The ritual and the reality have to be distinguished. John the Baptist understood from the onset, that to receive Christian baptism properly, conversion had to take place. He told the soldiers who came to him for baptism, “be content with their wages, no intimidation; share your clothing and food with those in need…” The same applies to baptism today.

The priest can’t make baptism work. He can only perform the ritual. It is the one who receives the baptism who has to be converted and make the sacrament effective. Or in the case of child baptism, it becomes the duty of the parents or guardian to make baptism effective in the child by helping the child to pray and to live a good and holy life. The importance is not about being put on the church’s baptism register and receiving a baptismal certificate, it is strictly about living the life of baptism, a virtuous life loyal to Christ as his family and to his way of life. That is why Jesus tell us that ‘I am the way the truth and the life.’ So it is not the Church ritual that saves, rather it is the lived life of Baptism that is essential for salvation. In the end it is how we relate to others as Christians – that is loving God and neighbour as oneself, which as Christ tell us, is the very essence and completion of Holy Scripture, its law and prophecy.

Father Pat