Sunday, 9th of January
Baptism of the Lord – Year C – Feast
This Sunday’s narration describes the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, and it is a stimulus to reflect on our baptism and on our being sons of God. Everything happens, as always, in a wonderful immersion into creation, the setting for all our human events and the stories about Jesus.
The Gospel does not say strange things, but only asks us to be “men”, if we live as sons and brothers. John in the desert had answered the questions of the crowd, the tax collectors and the soldiers, simply asking them to “be more human”, to emerge in their own humanity. That’s what the gospel asks, without any norms, moral doctrines, but through the experience of the word of God. Through the remembrance of what Christ was on earth, he reminds us that he is the pinnacle of being human.
People wonder if this John was the Christ, a sign of John’s great success and his teaching. His answer is very beautiful: “I baptize you with water, I immerse you in your reality of the limit. Water is a sign of death, if we stay in it, when we stop at our physical limit: underwater, it is clear, we cannot breathe, and we drown. We only stay alive when we are able to get out of the water”. “The one who baptizes with fire comes after me” says John, not in death but in life. Fire is a sign of life, if we think of how St. Francis describes it, “beautiful, joyful, robust and strong”. When I think about the beauty of the term “joyful”, dancer, I think about the flame that dances! Only by accepting our human limitation, our fragility, expressed in water, can we experience the encounter with God, life, expressed in fire. God is nothing other than the necessary fulfillment of our humanity, of our limit, of the protest against the limit and of our desire for the infinite. Within our limits, if we want, we can welcome whom we want.
It will be him, in the verses skipped from this Sunday’s passage, who is described as the one who will be the judgment of God: to clean up the threshing-floor, to collect the wheat and burn the chaff. He will burn evil, which is useless in the world. Beware, it will not burn “the bad men”, but the evil. We are good at easily condemning the bad, but the evil in the world remains. God’s judgment, which will take place by the hand of Christ, is different.
The second part of today’s narration focuses on Christ. How does Christ come, the just judge who will separate the wheat from the chaff? We find Jesus together “with all the people”, we find him in silence, in prayer.
This astounds us: he did an incredible thing, he lined up with sinners; he, too, immersed himself in that “sister water” of death, old baptism preached by John, baptism of the limit. Total sympathy with the frailty of man.
He receives baptism, and this scene, throughout Luke’s text, is like a great inclusion that will have its sequel in the final scene of the cross: here in creation, in the river, among sinners; in the Passion, always in creation, in the garden of Golgotha, between two criminals. Here he gets baptized, goes to the bottom, a symbol of death; eventually, on the hill of Golgotha, he dies. Here the sky opens, there the veil of the temple is torn apart. Here we see the spirit coming down, there he will give the spirit. Here the Father says: “You are my beloved son”, there the centurion will say: “Truly this man was the son of God”, the first profession of faith in history, after hearing Jesus screaming with the very word: “Father, into your hands … “
The whole Gospel of Luke is an explanation of this choice. All life is the fulfillment of the choice of baptism. Does the same thing happen to us, too? Is our life, at this moment, an explanation of our baptism? Luke introduces us to Jesus already baptized, the scene is already completed. And he is in prayer, baptism is lived in prayer. God meets us in the river, in the water, in fragility, in evil. Evil is not the place where he condemns us, but the place where he chooses to meet us.
The contemplation of this scene makes us understand who God is, it heals us from the illusion of the serpent in the garden of Eden, that God is totally different from us and of whom we must be afraid, from whom we hide behind fig leaves. Instead God is exactly like us, he accepts our nature and immerses himself in our limit. He will live his whole life with this consistency, to the extreme: God is “much inferior”, almost “lesser” if we use a term dear to St. Francis.
God is something else. This is the meaning of his baptism. In prayer, as in all the crucial passages of Jesus’ life in which the evangelist Luke likes to describe him. Only by listening to God can we live our days fully. Prayer differentiates us from animals: animals do not pray, they have no perception of their limit. Basically, praying comes from “precarious”, from our condition of fragility, from the awareness of our limitation, of our being creatures. We pray when we feel this limit, and in dialogue with God we want to overcome it. Proud people don’t pray, they think they don’t need it.
Prayer is not everything, but it is also everything, because it is our communion with God. We relive baptism in prayer, which is why Luke is keen in emphasizing this aspect. All this gives us, then, the strength to love our brothers and all creation, in communion with the limitation of all creation, but with an additional, entirely human awareness. I would say that, in the strictest sense, prayer is the basis of the Laudato Si’ Movement for this very reason, and it is a conscious prayer, lived in creation. And it is in prayer that heaven opens up!
God is so much like that, that we all find it hard to believe in it, starting with his friends, his apostles, who, despite having seen the miracles, struggled a lot. And we too, like them, struggle. How do you believe? Praying. And how do you learn to pray? Praying. Setting out on the road.In prayer, heaven opens up, as it happens on Calvary, when Jesus prays with the words: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” and heaven opens, the veil is torn apart. Now it’s the same dynamic. Where there is this spirit, this dialogue, God comes to dwell in our earth, he comes down from heaven. The Father, in this way, excludes no one, and reminds us to be brothers in Christ. This consistency accompanies the whole life of Jesus.
The spirit of wisdom descends upon him, which reminds us of Isaiah, the life of God descends, love, with a corporeal aspect. It is not something vague, but body. In the body it can be seen if there is life, if there is spirit, if there is the love of God. This can be seen immediately, compared to dead, sad, angry looks. It is like a dove, hovering over the waters of baptism, reminding us of the spirit of Genesis hovering over chaos. The baptism of Jesus is a new creation, a new world. A new covenant, which reminds us of Noah’s dove. This whirling spirit reminds us of the eagle of the exodus, reminds us of the people of Israel sung by Jonah, the dove of the Song of Songs, a sign of celebration and marriage.
Beyond the dove, there is a voice. There is no need for images, but a voice. The face of God, if we are to seek it, is in the face of Jesus. The voice comes from heaven. “You, who made this choice, are my son”. You are “my” son, the beloved, as in Genesis, when the voice of God invites Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son. Jesus is a son precisely because he will give his life on the mountain, the new Isaac. It is like the birth of Jesus, in human solidarity: it is not good for man to be alone, God the Creator from the garden of Eden resolves the drama of solitude. This standing in line of Jesus educates us in solidarity.
“In you I am well pleased” always recalls Isaiah, the canticle of the servant of Jhwh, who will bear upon himself the iniquities of the people. Jesus will be the emblem of the just and faithful servant. The whole story is contained in the two words of the voice of heaven and the consistency of Jesus.
May the prayer, which flows after the baptism of Jesus, be always inspired for us as Saint Clare of Assisi suggests, who said to her poor ladies: “Let us pray to God for one another, and thus, bearing the yoke of charity reciprocally, we will easily fulfill the law of Christ ” (FF 2918).
In the New Testament God speaks only twice, here on the river when he says: “You are my beloved son”, and on the mountain of the Transfiguration, when he says to the three disciples: “This is my son …” Everything else is said through his son. Jesus is the key to listening and reading the voice of the father, through the brothers and through all creation. Everything else risks to be “other voices”. With the hope of rediscovering the beauty of prayer and of our baptism, we sincerely wish you a happy Sunday!