Yesterday, the 10th of January, was, for the Catholic and Aglipayan churches in the Philippines, the feast of the Baptism of Christ or Theophany, the feast commemorating Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist.
But it is also commemorated on different dates by other religious sects, like the Lutheran and Anglican Churches on the first Sunday after the feast of the Epiphany; the Episcopal Church, the first Sunday after January 6; and the Methodist Church, on the second Sunday in January, after the feast of the Epiphany.
The Baptism is observed as a distinct feast in the Roman Catholic rite, also followed by the Aglipayan denomination, but it was originally one of three Gospel events marked by the feast of the Epiphany.
Many centuries after the visit of the Magi had in the West overshadowed the other elements marked in the Epiphany, Pope Pius XII instituted in 1955 a separate liturgical commemoration of the Baptism.
Over time in the West, the celebration of the baptism of the Lord came to be commemorated as a distinct feast from Epiphany.
In the past, the Lutheran Churches as with other Western Christian Churches, observed the Baptism of the Lord on the octave of the Feast of the Epiphany. The Feast is celebrated today in many Lutheran parishes as a separate feast, on the first Sunday after the feast of the Epiphany.
Many ask, not without good reason, who invented baptism? And why did Jesus, the sinless Son of God, receive the “baptism of repentance” meant for sinners?
And what is the message in the baptism of Jesus in Jordan?
Theologians say neither John nor Jesus invented baptism because they argue it had been practiced for centuries among the Jews as a ritual equivalent to the present-day Confession.
Until the fall of the Temple in 70 AD, it was common for Jewish people to use a special pool called a Mikveh — literally a “collection of water” – as a means of spiritual cleansing, to remove spiritual impurity and sin.
Men took this bath weekly on the eve of the Sabbath; women, monthly. Converts were also expected to take this bath before entering Judaism.
According to religion experts, the Orthodox Jews still retain the rite. John preached that such a bath was a necessary preparation for the cataclysm that would be wrought by the coming Messiah.
Jesus transformed this “continuing ritual into the one single, definitive act by which we begin our life of Faith,” say theologians.
But did Jesus have to receive the “baptism of repentance” meant for sinners? And why did Jesus wait for 30 years to begin his public ministry?
The strange answer for the first question given by the apocryphal book, The Gospel according to the Hebrews, is that Jesus received the baptism of John to please his mother and relatives.
In this humble submission, theologians argue, we see a foreshadowing of the “baptism” of his bloody death upon the cross.
Jesus’ baptism was the acceptance and the beginning of his mission as God’s suffering Servant.
He allowed himself to be included among sinners and submitted himself entirely to his Father’s will. Out of love, He consented to His baptism of death for the remission of the people’s sins.
Theologians say Jesus’ baptism was a “mystical experience that Jesus felt deep within his soul at the crucial turning point of his life.”
The opening of the Heavens with the Holy Spirit descending as a dove upon Jesus, and the Voice declaring of Jesus, “This is My beloved Son with Whom I am well pleased,” are God’s revelation to mankind of the Mystery that He is Triune.
The presence of the Triune God at this baptism, reveals Jesus’ true identity and mission.
The Heavens’ opening also indicates that this was a moment of God’s powerful intervention in human history and in the life of His Son and Jesus’ baptism by John was a major event in the life of Jesus
It was a decisive point which marked the end of Jesus’ private life, which had prepared him for his public ministry.
It was also a moment of identification with his people in their God-ward movement initiated by John the Baptist – said by theologians in other words as the quality of a good leader.
It was also a moment of approval from Jesus Heavenly Father, and it was as well a moment of conviction, when Jesus received certainties or assurances from Heaven about his identity and the nature of his mission: the “Chosen One” and the “beloved Son of God;”His mission of saving mankind would be fulfilled, not by conquering the Romans, but by becoming the “suffering servant” of God, i.e., by the cross.
It was also a moment of equipment because when He descended on Jesus in the form of a dove – symbol of gentleness — the Holy Spirit equipped Jesus with the power of healing, and that of preaching the “Good News” — that God is a loving Father, Who wants to save all human beings from their sins through His Son Jesus, in contrast to the “axe” and “fire” preaching of John the Baptist about an angry God’s judgment on sinners. (AI/MTVN)