Reflection for the Baptism of the Lord

Times of change (e.g. change of one’s career, change of one’s way of life) are times of risk and uncertainty. At such times people become very vulnerable. What they need most is someone to give them support and encouragement.

When the American writer, Maya Angelou, was growing up she didn’t see her mother very much. She was brought up in great part by her grandmother, a wonderful and saintly woman. She tells how when she was twenty years old, she took a trip to San Francisco to visit her mother. It was a particularly important yet vulnerable moment in Maya’s life: she was struggling to make her way in life and groping her way towards becoming a writer.

She had quite a good meeting with her mother. When it was time to leave, her mother walked her down the hill to the waiting bus. As they parted, her mother said, “You know, I think you are the greatest woman I have ever met.”

Years later Maya could still recall that moment vividly. She said, waiting for the bus, I sat there thinking: Just suppose she’s right. Suppose I really am somebody. It was one of those moments when the sky rolled back. At times like that, it’s almost as if the whole earth holds its breath.” Maya went on to become a highly successful and respected writer and poet.

Prior to his baptism Jesus had lived for thirty years at Nazareth. It had been an uneventful life (as far as we can tell). Nevertheless, during those years he had begun to hear another call- a call away from Nazareth, a call to the service of his brothers and sisters in the wider community. So finally he left Nazareth.

When he appeared before John to be baptized, he had reached a crossroads in his life.   He had left  behind him the  comparatively  quiet life of Nazareth,  and was about to embark on his public mission. No doubt he came to that moment after a lot of prayer and reflection. Nevertheless, it couldn’t have been easy for him. He must have experienced some uncertainty and anxiety. He needed affirmation.

During his baptism Jesus received that affirmation. He heard the wonderful words: “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.” These words also set the seal of divine approval on the mission he was about to begin, the mission to bring sinners back to God.

The heavenly Father’s words of affirmation put wind in his sails. Not only did he receive approval from on high for his mission, but he also received power from on high for it. This is signified by “the descent of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was not just given for that moment; the Spirit remained with him throughout his public ministry.

This feast in which we recall the baptism of Jesus reminds us of our own baptism, and renews its grace within us. From a spiritual point of view, baptism is the greatest thing that can happen to us. What happened at the baptism of Jesus happens at our baptism too. God calls us by name. He says to each of us, “You are my beloved son,” or “You are my beloved daughter.” And the Spirit descends on us, because we too are given a  mission: to participate in the work of Jesus.

We are not called to save the world, or to solve all its problems. Nevertheless, each of us has our own unique call, in our families, in our work, in our world.

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