A Christian pilgrim prays as she dips in the water at the baptismal site known as Qasr el-Yahud on the banks of the Jordan River near the West Bank city of Jericho. CNS photo/Nir Elias, Reuters

Through water, blood, Spirit, we witness Christ’s reality

  • January 4, 2015

Baptism of the Lord (Year B) Jan. 11 (Isaiah 55:1-11; Isaiah 12; 1 John 5:1-9; Mark 1:7-11)

God is not like human beings — and we can rejoice in that. In fact, Isaiah went to great lengths to highlight the wide gulf between divine and human reasoning. This is certainly evident in the fact that God offers food and drink in abundance to all those who hunger and thirst absolutely free and without any preconditions.

Generosity and compassion are God’s prime characteristics. The prophet wondered why anyone would chase after things that do not give sustenance when God offers so much. People filled themselves with harmful or useless things rather than with what was helpful or life-giving. It is a problem now just as it was then. Isaiah acknowledged that many had strayed from the true path and wandered far from God. No matter — God was near and waiting to be called upon. The prophet exhorted his listeners to seek God with an open and sincere heart while there was still time and God could still be found.

It isn’t that God was going somewhere, but the proper moment for seeking God is always now, for time has a way of racing by. Minds and hearts become dull and clouded, and it is far too easy to stop seeking the Lord and to sink into spiritual slumber.

Isaiah finished this inspiring passage by giving us an indication of the way God works. The Word of God — God’s creative will — goes forth into the world and does not return until its mission is complete. At this very moment, God’s Word is at work in the world for the benefit of humanity.

To our eyes, the world may seem chaotic and meaningless, but behind the scenes God’s intention for us is being played out in countless ways. Knowing this might make us a little more trusting and not so quick to make judgments or apply labels to people and events.

The compassionate and dynamic will of God was most evident in Jesus the Christ. The insistence that everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God seems simple enough on the surface. But John did not mean that this is by virtue of one’s membership in a group or church. In

John’s lexicon, to have faith or to believe in Jesus meant to surrender completely to Him and obey His commandments to the utmost. Love was the prime commandment that Jesus gave His disciples in John’s Gospel, and love meant willingness to lay down one’s life for others.

We cannot reason our way to this faith response, but there is a threefold witness to the reality of Jesus to help us — water, blood and the Spirit. The water and blood represent the humanity of Christ that was taken on when the Word became flesh. The Spirit is the continual presence of Christ in the Christian community and in the minds and hearts of believers. The personal experience of the solidarity of Jesus and the workings of the Spirit within enables us to express faith in Jesus as the one truly sent from God.

Water and the Spirit both played an important role early in the life of Jesus. His baptism at the hands of John the Baptist — disturbing and puzzling to some because it was a baptism of repentance — signaled the willingness of Jesus to share the human experience to its fullest. It was at the moment of the baptism that the veil separating this world from the realm of the Spirit was torn open so that Jesus could be affirmed as the Beloved Son of God.

The Spirit settled on Jesus so as to make Him fully conscious of His identity and mission and to serve as a witness for others. This mission included the total giving of Himself and the willingness to lay down His life for the sake of inaugurating God’s reign and accomplishing the redemption of humanity.

Baptism was not a membership card or a free pass to Heaven — not then, and not now. It represented the passage from the world of human concerns and values into a life of service, sacrifice, humility and love centred on God.

Baptism is a way of life that enables us to live a God-filled life in a very human world.

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