Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What You May Not Know About Sunday’s Gospel Reading: The Baptism of Christ II

After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened for him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

“The heavens were opened for him.” The importance of these words cannot be overstated. Just before God “baptized” the world with a global flood he assessed the sinfulness of mankind and “regretted that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was grieved.” The Lord promised to do something which would prove more fatal than the flood itself: He said, "My spirit shall not remain in man forever, since he is but flesh." As if to say, “Okay. You don’t want me. Fine! I will leave you at the mercy of your own devices.” So, God went up to heaven, thus taking his Spirit, and the doors of heaven were closed to man. From the days of Noah to the Incarnation of Christ, humanity did not benefit from the moral aid of divine grace. Each person was at the mercy of his weak human nature. As one peruses the pages of the Old Testament and the books of ancient history, one cannot help but notice the barbarity and cruelty of man; even among God’s chosen people. Such was the world…without the Holy Spirit.

After four hundred years of silence, God finally spoke again: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” For centuries, Israel did not hear the inspired words of any living prophet. But with the preaching of St. John the Baptist and the appearance of Christ at the river Jordan, all that changed. The doors of heaven were opened and God the Father sent out his Dove in order to find a resting place. His Spirit, which had been withdrawn from the world in Genesis 6, once again descended to earth and rested...on his Son. Perhaps, this is why St. John said, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him.” In other words, the Spirit of God who had appeared in the form of a dove did not go back up to heaven; he was here to stay.

The public declaration of the Father’s love for the Son was accompanied by the anointing of the Spirit. Jesus would later say of himself in the synagogue: “The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me.” These words from the prophet Isaiah signify a kind of consecration or priestly ordination. The words of paternal affection with which the Father spoke to his Son in the Gospel of Matthew finds its parallel from Psalm 110 in which he also says, “In holy splendor before the daystar, like the dew I begot you. The LORD has sworn and will not waver: Like Melchizedek you are a priest forever."

In the river Jordan, St. John, the son of Zechariah the priest, baptized the Son of God. But this was not just a baptism of water. No. This was a kind of ordination from the eternal Father to his eternal Son. Perhaps, this is why St. John could proclaim: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Christ, as we have seen, is not only the Lamb to be sacrificed but a priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

“It is even more obvious if another priest is raised up after the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become so, not by a law expressed in a commandment concerning physical descent but by the power of a life that cannot be destroyed.” (Hebrews 7) At the river Jordan a new priesthood was inaugurated through which “the power of life” would be communicated to the world. This priesthood is to be found in the Catholic Church. Indeed, the Catholic priesthood is the hope of nations precisely because it communicates the Spirit who embodies the love and anointing from the Father to the Son.

More on the next blog-