Yesterday, we celebrated the baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s full of meaning, so let’s examine it a bit. For one thing, baptism has never been a part of the Jewish religion. They were careful about ceremonial washing of hands and eating and drinking vessels, but the baptizing of people was unknown to them. However, Saint John the Baptist invented the ritual (or perhaps borrowed it from a Jewish sect called “the Essenes” who wrote the Dead Sea scrolls.) His idea was to invite people to bathe symbolically in the Jordan river to wash away their sins in preparation for the coming of the promised Savior.
Now, while he is doing this, Our Lord came along to be baptized. Saint John knew him and knew that he was NOT a sinful man. Therefore John hesitated about baptizing Jesus and treating him as if he were a sinner. But Jesus insists upon it. It is true: he is not a sinner, but he IS a member of a sinful race, and he has come to combat sin and to identify with the sinful human race. So he humbles himself to the point of asking for a ritual of purification and cleansing.
However, the divine reaction to the humility of the human Jesus is beautiful: the Holy Spirit hovers above the head of Jesus, “anointing” Jesus by his divine presence, and the voice of God the Father rings out over the Jordan river: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” This is God’s way of saying to his divine Son: although you humble yourself and ask for a rite of cleansing as if you were a sinner, you are no sinner and I am totally pleased with you and proud of you.
This is the first time in sacred history that the three divine Persons of the Blessed Trinity are manifested at one time and place. It had been constantly emphasized to the Jews that there is only ONE God—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But nothing had been said about the fact that there are three divine Persons in the one God. This is the greatest truth that Jesus taught us, and here, at the beginning of his public life, the three divine Persons manifest themselves to the world by their presence at the self-humbling of Jesus. Here we have a splendid example of what Our Lord was to say later: those who humble themselves shall be exalted. Thank you for seeking God’s truth, God Bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.