The Baptism of Jesus

Image by He Qi

Eighteenth-century English poet Alexander Pope once remarked that if we expect nothing, we shall never be disappointed. Such a low bar we might set for ourselves! Yes, great expectations might disappoint by blinding us to the good already in front of us, or leading us to future failure. Yet, it is better to risk disappointment than be stuck with nothing to look forward to, nothing to excite us, nothing to increase our hope. Expectations spur us on to remarkable achievement; urge us to seek excellence with greater diligence; push us to the kind of creativeness that opens the door for something new to happen, for discovering new possibilities, for embracing the unknown.

The people in the gospel looked to John the Baptist to be the longawaited Messiah. It was precisely their expectation—misdirected though it was—that kept them looking for the Messiah. John redirected them from himself to the person of Jesus, the “beloved Son” of God. Our own baptism with “the Holy Spirit and fire” initiates us on a journey of discovery not only of who Jesus is, but also who we are in him. This gospel, then, teaches us something about John, Jesus, and ourselves.

Who was John the Baptist? He was set apart, prophetic, radical, clear about his message of repentance, sure about his identity as the herald of One who would be greater than he. Who is Jesus? He is the Messiah to whom John pointed, the “beloved Son” of God, the One who, because of his own prophetic, radical, and sure message, would be misunderstood, rejected, ridiculed, deserted, crucified.

Who are we? We are those who, through our baptism “with the Holy Spirit and fire,” are conformed to Jesus and take up his saving mission. From his baptism by John to his crucifixion, the Messiah did not meet mere human expectations. Rather, he exceeded them with his Good News, his healing, his love. From our own baptism to our death, we also must not meet mere human expectations. Rather, we must achieve the full potential of our own graced identity as God’s own people expressed through a Gospel way of living.

Living Liturgy 2016