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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Epiphany and Baptism of Jesus

The Feast of the Epiphany was celebrated in the East combining both the event of the Magi and the Baptism of Jesus. (They also threw in the Marriage Feast at Cana.) For Jesus, whatever happened at the Baptism must have been a revelation that changed his life. He did not return to live in his home town; he did not seem to continue with his trade, but instead set out to preach and teach and heal so that all would know the Father's Love. His life was now about revealing His Father to others. He may have stayed with John's disciples but the Spirit led him into the desert. After that time, Jesus seems to have been a man with a mission; a passion to call others to believe in the good news that God's reign was here. I think the Baptism was a real epiphany for Jesus.
Sunday, we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus. Here is something from one of the commentaries:

He was like us in all things but sin, the author of Hebrews reminds us when discussing Jesus’ high priesthood. And yet we balk at the statement. “If he did not sin, how could he really be like us? How could he be fully human?”

We misunderstand this because we misunderstand our humanity as well as our sin. Christ has come not only to reveal the divinity to us; he has come to reveal us to ourselves. Not only is he truly God. He is truly human. And he is truly human precisely because he does not sin. All of our sin is nothing other than the rejection of the truth of our humanity. Jesus’ utter acceptance of our humanity, his drinking of our cup fully, his sharing of our wounded condition, reverses our sinful rejection of our creatureliness.

His baptism, then, is at the heart of his mission to heal us. He enters even the wounds of our self-rejection, without having made the rejection himself. He accepts full solidarity with us even if it means being seen as sinner. Jesus’ baptism is one of his earliest great transformations of our human condition. The first was that the Word itself could take human flesh. All the further implications would follow: that he would be tempted to reject this mission of transformation; that he would undertake all manner of healing and disarming of devils; that he would announce a kingdom to transmute all blindness, poverty, imprisonment, and darkness; that he would, at last, suffer the very fate of sin in death.

Just as we now baptize our children to announce a new fate for the human body, the baptism of Jesus is the inauguration of that fate. Announced as sinner, wholly one with our condition, Jesus, hovered over by the very spirit of God, is gazed upon by the Father who sent him and who now says to him and all of us who share his flesh—“This is my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”

John Kavanaugh, S. J.

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