There are two events in the life of Jesus according to the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke which made manifest the concrete and visible presence of the Most Holy Trinity, namely: the Baptism of Jesus and the Transfiguration. In those events we see Jesus as the center of the story, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove and cloud and heard the voice of the Father. Baptism would be an initiation before Jesus started his public ministry while the Transfiguration happened before his passion and death.
In the three cycles of the liturgical year, we read the Baptism of Jesus according to the synoptic gospels, although it is also written in the gospel of St. John but the focus is more on the testimony of John rather than the event. This year, we read the account according to St. Matthew.
In the gospel today, when Jesus appeared in the Jordan to be baptized, John tried to dissuade him “It is I who need baptism from you and yet you come to me.” This means that John knew Jesus at once and he was also aware of the limitation of his ministry. But Jesus replied “leave it like this for the time being; it is fitting that we should , in this way, do all the uprightness demands.” We have to understand that John’s baptism was not connected with forgiveness of sins; its purpose was revelatory, that Jesus may be made known.
As we read or listen to the account of Jesus’ baptism, let us reflect on our own baptism.
Once Jesus was baptized, the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on him. We have here two very powerful statements which will give us a better understanding of our own baptism: 1) “the heavens opened”. Remember that the heavens were shut down in the Old Testament right after the Fall of man which was symbolized by Adam and Eve being driven out from the Garden of Eden. And now the heavens have been opened. When we were baptized, the heavens were opened for us precisely because we see heavens as the home of our Father. Becoming a child of God after we were baptized, we become heirs of the Kingdom as St. Paul reminds us. 2) “the Spirit of God descending like a dove”. The dove is used here as a symbol of new life. Let us again go back to the Old Testament, after the flood during the time of Noah. In the book of Genesis, the dove was a powerful symbol used by the author to symbolize new life. The dove in the story of Jesus’ baptism points to the role of the Holy Spirit in our own baptism. When we were baptized, we entered into a new life in the Spirit as St. Paul reminds us.
Then the voice of the Father was heard “This is my Son, my Beloved; my favor rests on him.” Even though the fatherhood of God takes centrality in the teaching and ministry of Jesus, never was it known that the author of the four gospels used any symbol for God the Father. But here in the Baptism of Jesus and later on during the Transfiguration, we have the concrete audible manifestation of the Father. His message was centered on Jesus who was his beloved. For St. Mark and St. Luke it was addressed to Jesus; You are my beloved Son…” but for Matthew, it was addressed to the people: “This is my son..” which is more revelatory in nature. Biblical scholars would say that the Father’s voice was the “Confirmation” of Jesus just like our own confirmation after we receive our baptism.
But the voice of the Father was not just addressed to Jesus per se but to all the baptized. When we were baptized, God the Father claims us as his child. And even if we did not hear the voice of God the Father during our baptism, the statement remains true.
The beauty of our baptism is not just about the removal of the Original Sin and receiving the sanctifying grace but we also enter into a Trinitarian life: we live a life of the Spirit, we carry in ourselves the name of Christ (that’s why we are called Christians) and we become sons and daughters of God the Father. This is why at the baptism of Jesus, the Trinity made manifest himself to the people to remind us of this beautiful truth: we are the beloved of God! With St. Augustine, I could say that God loves me more than anybody else in the world and he loves others just like he loves me.