As the people were filled with expectation,
and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be
the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, 'I baptize you with water;
but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the
thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Now
when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and
was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in
bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, 'You are my Son, the
Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
Prior to today’s gospel reading in verses
1-22 of the same chapter, St. Luke tells us of the preaching and baptizing of
John the Baptist at the Jordan. This appearance of John the Baptist caused
great excitement. People flocked to him from all over the country. We learn
from St. John’s gospel that some men from Galilee had become his disciples,
among them were Andrew and probably John. What did they and other people
expect? They expected the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies of the
scriptures, which were well-known to the people. Someone was to come who would
their king and their liberator. As subsequent event show, it was a political
leader and liberator that they were looking for at this time. They never
expected that the leader and liberator was a spiritual one.
The title “Messiah” means the Anointed
because the one who was to be king, priest and prophet were anointed before
assuming office. The Greek word for anointed is Christos, in English is Christ,
the surname given to Jesus. At that time, many thought John the Baptist might
be the expected Messiah. However, John the Baptist denied it vehemently.
John the Baptist knew that the Christ is
much more powerful and important than himself that he the Baptist is not even
worthy to be his lowly servant to untie his sandals and to do other menial
tasks for him.
John the Baptist told the people that his
baptism was only a symbol representing the interior conversion from sin and
worldliness while the Baptism that Jesus would perform would be a reality and
not a symbol. This was, said the John the Baptist, because those receiving
Christ’s Baptism will receive grace, the friendship and sonship of God, as well
as other gifts through the giving of the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier.
Fire was used in the Old Testament to
purify objects as a ritual practice (cf Numbers 31:23). Furthermore, the
presence of God was frequently surrounded by fire (cf Genesis 15:17 and Exodus
3:2). Baptism with fire means a thorough purification and the presence of God
in the one to be baptized thus purified.
Jesus insisted that John the Baptist should
wash him with water as he washed the other sinners. Although Jesus had no sin
to repent of he represented all of us sinners that day. After he was washed,
the Holy Spirit descended upon him. This is the vivid description of the inward
reality. At the beginning of his mission of salvation for all men, the Messiah,
in his human nature, received the fullness of divine assistance.
At the same time, God the Father proclaims
that this is the Messiah by calling him “my beloved Son”. Those at the Jordan
that day did not understand Jesus is also God. Only two who were present at the
Baptism of the Lord, Andrew and probably John, left John the Baptist. Later
Andrew told his brother Peter that he had found the Messiah and Peter joined
What happened to the hundreds of others at
the Baptism of the Lord? What held them back from following Jesus? Before we
pass any judgment on them let us have a look into our own hearts today. We are
Christians, we are followers of Christ, we know he was God and we believe his
word. We are convinced that getting to heaven is more important than getting
all the treasures and pleasures this earth has to offer. But do we always live
up to these convictions? Are we true Christians the seven days of the week? In
our speech, in our dealings with others, in our family life, are we truly
following Christ and his teaching?
Is my way of life, my daily conduct, such
that it would cause a non-Christian to say, “that person had something noble
and sensible about him or her and I must find out what it is and get for
myself?” That is the question that we should all ponder today. Amen.