An update on general matters (16th January) can be found on our Newsletter page on this website.
Here is Fr. Stephen’s homily for the Baptism of the Lord: The Baptism of Jesus Christ signals the start of his public ministry. St. Luke, in his account, dates this event very precisely by aligning it within the reigns of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod and his brother Philip, – all political leaders at that time; together with Annas and Caiaphas, High Priests.
We should never take casually the times when the Evangelists slot the history of our redemption within the events of world history. They are underlining the very message of the Incarnation, that God became Man at an exact moment in time and in the land of the Jewish people.
Religious purification by water was a ritual with which the Jews would have been familiar. Immersion in flowing water was used to purify people, especially the temple priests, who had come into contact with something impure. But, as Pope Benedict points out in his superb trilogy, Jesus of Nazareth, John’s baptism was more than ritual purification. The baptism of John could not be repeated, and it amounted to the affirmation of a conversion experience, which gave the candidate a whole new direction in life. We see already the connection with Christian baptism.
And John’s baptism included the confession of sins. If Jesus was sinless, why did he submit to baptism; a question which John asked Jesus directly. Matthew records the answer from Jesus: ‘Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.’
What did Jesus mean by ‘fulfilling all righteousness’? In Jewish thinking it meant doing God’s will and God’s will was that Jesus should identify himself fully with sinful humanity, even though he was sinless himself. In his baptism, in which Jesus is submerged three times under water, symbolising death by drowning, he bears the sin of the world on our behalf, and drowns it. Such similarity here with Good Friday, when the Lord bears the evil of the world for it to be nailed to the Cross. We remember the words of the Baptist on seeing Jesus, quoted by St John the Evangelist: ‘Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.’
The Lord commands the Church: Go, make disciples of all nations. Baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. We are to reach out to all peoples who do not know God. We are to draw them in, baptise them, setting them free from original sin, so that they become adopted daughters and sons of God. We are to clothe them with the light and life of the risen Christ. This, above all else, sums up the work of the Church.