We shall focus our reflection on the gospel reading ( Matthew 3 : 13-17 ). This very passage can be divided into two phases. Phase one ( vv.13-15 ) is about the interaction between John and Jesus shortly before the baptism. While phase two is about the event that took place after the baptism.
The interaction between John and Jesus speaks volume to the essence of humility while the later ( ie the event ) relates us to the theological implications of the baptism.
At the first phase, John perceived the glaring disparity between his status and that of Christ an ordinary man baptising God himself. This case is comparable to having a seasoned consultant surgeon present himself to a candidate on house-manship for surgical intervention. Or imagine Prof. Dan Obiora ( referring to the Catechist, who is a professor of Physics ) requesting one of his students to teach him measurements. It was like water flowing uphill, hence his protest. John forbade him as Peter did and expresses himself to Christ, just as his mother had done to Christ’s mother (Lk.1 : 43). The characters shown by John have a lot to teach us.
John had obtained a great name and was universally respected yet see how humble he is still. We should note that God has further honour in reserve for those whose spirits continue low when their reputation rises.Though he was the greatest that ever was born of woman. Yet he owns he had need of cleansing. This reminds us that the purest souls are most sensible of their own remaining impurities. While dealing on the souls of others, he speaks feelingly of the case of his own soul. Ministers of God should learn to care for their own souls as much as they preach to others.
Let us reflect on Christ’s response – the very first preaching of Christ was humility and he preached it by example. If I may ask; what does fulfilling all righteousness mean? It is an approval or submitting of self to the demands of law. Just as our Blessed Lord submitted himself to circumcision because it was demanded by the Jewish law, so did he submit to John’s baptism to show that God’s Law do not admit exceptions in respect of the dignity of persons concerned; small or great, poor or rich, child or adult. Remember also that Christ submitted to John’s washing because it is a divine appointment but rejected Pharisaic washing because it was a human invention and imposition.
Far more significant, We must see this baptism as a logical consequence of the feast we have just celebrated; the feast of Christmas, the feast of incarnation. This is the proof that Christ is truly man ( and of course truly God ). If he did not go through this rite of baptism, those who argue that the two natures were not complete in Christ would have used this fact as an argument to prove their case. He did not assume to be man but truly man. Hence, as we say in the canon at Mass : He resembles us in all things but sin. This is a very important aspect of Christ mission because it is this that made him function as a model to us. If he were not truly man, many of us would have excuses not to dare to imitate him. But because he shared in everything that our humanity bequeathed to us, our weaknesses and our frailties, we can look up to him and learn from him how to master these problems.
In addition, with the will of Christ, and this reason for it, John was entirely satisfied and he baptized him. The same modesty which made him at first decline the honour Christ offered him, now made him do the service Christ enjoined him. Note, no pretence of humility must make us decline our duty. Take for instance, my act of humility becomes a timidity if I refuse to celebrate Holy Mass for the people of God because I feel that, as a human being, I am not worthy to consecrate host and wine to become the body and blood of Christ.
At this juncture, let us briefly look at phase two (vv.16-17) of the gospel which is on the theological implications of the baptism of our Blessed Lord. How solemnly heaven was pleased to grace the baptism of Christ with a special display of glory.
First: The heavens were opened
Others that were baptized staid to confess their sin, but Christ having no sin to confess, went up immediately out of water. Behold the heavens were opened unto him to discover something above and beyond the staring firmament. This was an attempt to encourage him to go on his work and to encourage us to receive him and submit to him. In and through Christ, the heavens are opened to the children of men, sin shut up heaven, put a stop to all friendly intercourse between God and man but now Christ has opened it.
Second: The spirit of God descend.
In the beginning of the old world, the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters (Gen 1:2). So here in the beginning of this new world, the same action of the Spirit was necessary for the creation of a new world different from that corrupted by our first parents (Adam and Eve).
Third: It descended like a dove –
Of all fowls of Heaven, none was so significant as the dove. The Spirit of Christ is a dove-like spirit; not a silly dove without heart (Hos.7:11), but an innocent dove without gall. The Spirit descended not in the shape of an eagle which is, though a royal bird yet a bird of prey but a dove, which is harmless and inoffensive. Such was the Spirit of Christ. Unfortunately, many of us are converting the power of the Holy Spirit to that of destruction. Again, the dove is remarkable for her eyes; we find that both the eyes of Christ and the eyes of the Church are compared to dove’s eyes, for they have the same spirit. For more clarification, the dove mourns much (Isaiah 38:14) as Christ mourns for the sick and sinners, the dove was the only fowl that was offered in sacrifice (Lev.1:14), and Christ by the Spirit, the eternal Spirit, offered himself without spot to God. The tidings of the decree of Noah’s flood was brought by a dove with an olive leaf in her mouth. In the same way, the glad tidings of peace with God was brought by the Spirit as a dove.
To explain and complete this heavenly solemnity, there came a voice from heaven, which, we have reason to think , was heard by all that were present. The Holy Spirit manifested himself in the likeness of a dove, but God the Father by a voice. At this point, the presence of the Trinity was felt.
See here how God owned our Lord Jesus. This is my beloved son – Jesus Christ is the son of God, by eternal generation, as he was begotten of the Father before all the world’s (Col.1:15, Heb.1:3); and by supernatural conception; as he was conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost (Lk.1:35); yet this is not all; he is the Son of God by special designation to the work and office of the world’s redeemer.
We could also from this voice behold, and wonder, what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that He should deliver up him that was the son of his love, to suffer and die for those that were the generation of his wrath. He did not withhold his only Son, his Isaac whom he loved but gave him to be be a sacrifice for our sin.
Not only with whom but in whom I am well pleased. Indications therefore emerge that there is no coming to God as a father but by him (Jesus Christ) as a mediator (Jn 14:6). In him our spiritual sacrifices are acceptable for he is the altar that sanctifies every gift. Out of Christ, God is a consuming fire but in Christ a reconciled father.
Against this backdrop, a reenactment of this Holy sacrifice of an only begotten Son at Holy Mass reminds God of his abundant love for humanity and moves Him to do more. Hence, we are convinced that Holy Mass is the greatest of all forms of prayer.
Finally, I am troubled that in spite of our belief that baptism has the power to wash away the original sin committed by our first parents ( Adam and Eve ), yet after baptism, we do not believe that it has the capacity to wash away the so called sins of our forefathers (read Ezek.18:1-4). It is so bizarre that we claim to be secure only after paying some hungry so called “men of God” to come and shout and dig out some debris used by our great grand fathers and describe them as the charms holding our destiny. We, Africans, still have a long way to go in our journey of faith. May God continue to inspire and strengthen our Faith in Him.