Jesus the Baptist

This Sunday we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, but once you hear the readings of this mass you might ask “who’s baptizing whom?” John the Baptist says it best in our gospel reading (MK 1:7-11): “I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

This is really a celebration of Jesus the Baptist. Last week we celebrated the epiphany of three men, baptized in the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, who risked their lives on a journey of faith to find the salvation of the world. We also got an insight into prisoners of the flesh, symbolized by King Herod, who was so afraid of losing the false security of his bodily entombment that he would do anything to stay buried with his sin—even kill the one who would free him.

But as Isaiah tells us in the first reading (IS 42:1-4, 6-7), God wants our spirits to be free. To help us understand that, the prophet gives us an insight into God’s commissioning of Christ:

“I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.”

This doesn’t mean freedom OF the flesh, but freedom FROM the flesh. In our second reading from the Acts of the Apostles (ACTS 10:34-38), Peter sheds more light on Jesus the Baptist and his mission…

“…beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”

And the completion of this mission meant God was with us too. Jesus’ death baptized humanity in the Holy Spirit, opening our carnal tombs and freeing us from our spiritual poverty. The beatitudes Jesus recited were not just pretty words, they were a promise: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

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