Today we celebrate the fact that Jesus, God’s own Son, has come into our world as one of us, associated with sinners and has been baptized by one of his creatures.
When we see people make a dramatic change in their lives we usually wonder why. We become curious to discover or find out what may have prompted that. What makes people change the direction of their lives? Is it a necessity? Are they just dissatisfied with their old way of life? Why should someone give up the quiet security of country or village life that embark on a way of life that would pinch him in a danger zone, constantly in opposition to the authorities and the powers that be? Why did Jesus leave the region of Galilee and head south on a two-day journey to see a prophet who lives in the wilderness and who was after all not popular with the political powers? In today’s Gospel, we see Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism, the great event that stands between the hidden life of Nazareth and the public life of the travelling ministry. Matthew tells us that Jesus heads south because he wants baptism from John. John’s baptism was directed to his fellow Jews as a call to repentance to prepare the way for the promised one.
When Jesus came out of the water, the heavens were opened, the Spirit of God descended on him and a voice from heaven recognizes him as “my Son, the Beloved”. Matthew in stating this incident shows that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the fulfilment of the ancient plan of God. In the account of Jesus’ baptism, Matthew makes an important declaration of the faith in Christ: in him, all prophecies are completed, all the ancient hopes and longings are accomplished. Jesus is the Son of God. The beginning of Jesus’ public ministry is the end of a long time of waiting.
The prisoners who rejoiced to see Pope John XXIII in their midst were particularly moved by his reaction when one of their members fell on his knees before the Pope crying: “Holy Father, can there be forgiveness for the likes of me? Pope John’s eloquent response was to raise the man to his feet and put his arms around him, like a father in the parable of the prodigal son.
The new beginnings we make in our own lives may not be the fulfilment of anyone’s prophecy, but they probably mark the fulfilment of someone’s hope. Sometimes, we are so hesitant about making a new beginning that we end up in no man’s land waiting for weather reports. Every new beginning is a risk and we undertake that risk sooner than we have people to underwrite out stories or our change. Sometimes, we change because we have someone who has lived out an ancient hope that our secret self can indeed grow strong and thrive. It is no coincidence that Jesus only begins his big change when he is funded by his Father’s love and support through his encounter with John the Baptist. People are reluctant to change when they discover that people are indifferent to whether they change or not. John the Baptist gave Jesus support. Jesus truly cares about us. He is interested in our changes and he underwrites our changes and cares deeply that we do change for the better. The Cross stands as a true and timeless proof of this.