This material was first published by Redemptorist Publications And is included here with their permission.
“When Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened”
What would have happened in the Garden of Eden if, instead of blaming each other, the serpent and even God himself, Adam and Eve had been honest and taken responsibility for their own behaviour? How different things might have been if they’d met with God while he was “walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze”. They might have knelt before him in their physical and spiritual nakedness and said, “We did a very wrong thing. We gave in to temptation and disobeyed you. We ate the fruit which you forbade us to eat and now we know what’s right and what’s wrong in your sight. We’re so sorry and we wish we hadn’t been so weak.” Perhaps God would have forgiven them, made garments for them and then talked with them about how they would live together as husband and wife and with God now that they knew about good and evil, right and wrong.
But Adam and Eve didn’t own up and say sorry. They disobeyed God and then lied to him, fearing his judgment upon them. Without repentance they could not receive God’s forgiveness but instead heard his judgement and his sentence of exile from the garden to which we can never return.
When commenting on today’s Gospel reading one writer, Fred B Craddock, says that “when repentance and forgiveness are available, judgement is good news” and with this in mind let’s think about the story of the Baptism of Christ.
Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell us about John the Baptist proclaiming baptism for the forgiveness of sins; John saying that he would be followed by someone more powerful than him and God’s Spirit descending on Jesus in the form of a dove with an affirmation that Jesus is God’s Beloved Son.
In Luke’s version of the story, however, there are two important elements not included in Matthew’s or Mark’s accounts.
The first is John’s proclamation that the “one who is more powerful” will bring with him judgement: he will separate the wheat from the chaff, keeping the wheat safe and burning the chaff. The people who were speculating about whether John himself might be the Messiah are now wondering whether “the one who is more powerful” is in fact the chosen one of God since the longed for Messiah was expected to come as judge as well as saviour. For these people John’s baptism of repentance is indeed good news in the face of imminent judgement and its consequences.
Luke also wants us to see Jesus as a man of prayer. He writes about Jesus praying at important moments in his life and ministry. For example he prays before calling his twelve disciples (Luke 6.12); before asking them who they believe he is (Luke 9.18), before teaching them how to pray (Luke 11.1) and during his last days in Jerusalem (Luke 22.41 and 23.46).
Luke says that it is while Jesus is praying that heaven opens and the Spirit of God descends bestowing on Jesus the blessing of his heavenly Father and, with that blessing, the Messiah’s right to judge but also to forgive sins when there is heart-felt repentance.
At his baptism the Holy Spirit gives Jesus the confirmation of something that has always been true: he is God’s beloved Son. The Spirit also empowers him for his ministry.
We too are given the assurance at our baptism that we are God’s beloved daughters and sons. Sometimes we may not hear that assurance clearly or perhaps we cannot believe that we are lovable and precious to God. If or when that’s the case for us we can remember that immediately after his baptism Jesus spent a long and testing time in the wilderness when perhaps, as he did on the cross, he felt abandoned by his Father. He would have needed to hold on in prayer to his experience of affirmation and blessing when he was tempted to doubt it.
When we feel alone and lost in the wilderness we too need to hold on in prayer to the times when we’ve been affirmed and blessed. And we are called to give assurances of God’s love to others who are struggling with their faith.
We are also called to proclaim the good news to all who judge themselves harshly that in Jesus we see love and forgiveness because we are indeed precious in his sight and he wants to keep us safe like the wheat gathered in the granary.
- In the wilderness John proclaims a baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
- He also proclaims that someone who is more powerful than he will come with judgment and a baptism of fire.
- God’s Holy Spirit descends on Jesus in the form of a dove while he is praying following his baptism.
- God affirms Jesus as his Beloved Son and he affirms us too, giving us the assurance that when we are truly sorry our sins are forgiven and we are kept safe from harm.
Let us bring our prayers to our loving God who creates, forms and redeems us and who calls each of us by name.
We pray for God’s Church and his people who are precious in his sight and honoured by him. May we reach out to all who need to know the redeeming love of God in their lives.
We pray for men, women and children throughout the world who live in the destructive fires of violence, oppression and injustice. May the Holy Fire of God protect them and bring them to safety and peace.
We pray for all who are passing through deep waters of suffering in body, mind or spirit. May they know the presence of God alongside them so they are not overwhelmed by their pain.
We remember with thanksgiving all who have passed through the waters of death and are now in the eternal presence of God. May they be at peace through the redeeming love shown in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God’s Beloved Son and our Saviour.
Lord God, we thank you for hearing our prayers and for loving us and all those for whom we have prayed. Help us to trust you and to be ready to play our part in bringing your kingdom of justice and peace into our world.