Christ’s baptism and your mission (should you choose to accept it)

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Baptism of the Lord, Year A: January 9, 2011
Isa 42:1-4, 6-7; Ps 29:1-4, 9-10; Acts 10:34-38; Matt 3:13-17

It happens often in the movies—especially fantasy or adventure movies; sometimes action or thrillers. You start out with the main character, who seems pretty average, leading a pretty normal, quiet life. And then this person meets someone or receives a message:

“You aren’t ordinary; you’re special. And we have a mission for you: something big and hard and important. There is a problem that needs to be overcome; an enemy who needs to be defeated. A lot of people need to be saved. It won’t be easy. Why, it will probably take the whole movie to carry out this mission! But you will be well-equipped. Your mission, should you choose to accept it…”

In the movies, this message might arrive in a cassette that will self-destruct in 10 seconds. But in the Old Testament, such a message often arrived in the form of… oil. Yes, oil poured upon your head by someone like the prophet Samuel, who was sent by the Lord to anoint the replacement for King Saul; and Samuel was led to Bethlehem, to Jesse’s family; but not to the tallest or the strongest son; but rather to young David. And we read [1 Sam 16:13]: Then Samuel, with the horn of oil in hand, anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and from that day on, the spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.

This role, this mission, arrived in the form of anointing. Who were anointed in the People of Israel, in the Old Testament?

  • Kings, whether by a prophet in unusual circumstances or by a priest in a ceremony in the Temple.
  • Priests themselves, especially the high priests.
  • And certain objects used in worship.

This consecration by anointing made the anointed one qualified to exercise his new office; gave him, in some way, the gift of the Holy Spirit; and made it manifest to others that he had been chosen by God for this mission, this role.

The word for “anointed” in Hebrew was Mashiach or Messiah; in Greek, Christos or Christ. And we know about the great expectation of the People of Israel that a very special Anointed Messiah or Christ, a descendant of David, would one day come and save his People.

We know that Jesus Christ was that long-expected Messiah: incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary, born on Christmas Day, to save his People from their Sins. But it is interesting, since “Christ” or “Messiah” was such an important title for our Lord and our understanding of him, that the New Testament speaks only once of the event of Jesus being anointed. And that one time is in our second reading today, when St. Peter is quoted in the Book of Acts: “You know … what has happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power.”

Now, we don’t fall into the error of Adoptionism here. The Catechism tells us [438] that God the Son, eternally begotten of the Father, was consecrated as Messiah by the Father from all eternity. And Christ was filled with the Holy Spirit in his Incarnation; and he received the Holy Spirit again in his baptism, as we heard in the Gospel reading, when the Spirit was visible like a dove, descending and coming upon him. In his human nature, he was given strength for his temptation, his public ministry, and his Passion. In that way, within Jesus’ own life, his baptism was very much like Pentecost; or like our confirmation. At the start of his ministry, he would say, quoting the prophet Isaiah [Luke 4:18-19]:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it”—and accept it, he did. But what was that mission? In our first reading, from Isaiah, we hear the word justice three times: he shall bring forth justice to the nations; until he establishes justice on the earth; I … have called you for the victory of justice. To set things right throughout the whole world: not a small or insignificant mission!

But how will he do it? Crack some heads? Shoot first and ask questions later? No, for as Isaiah says: “not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street. A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench.” He will accomplish his mission not by punishing the person who is lost and sinful for his sin, but by reaching inside the person who is lost, and pouring in his grace, and transforming that person’s heart—so that he is no longer lost, but found; no longer sinful, but holy.

And in Christ’s baptism, he not only receives the anointing of the Spirit and his mission, but he also begins to carry out this mission. For he was not baptized because he needed to repent; for he was completely without sin. No, he went down into the water of baptism so that he could sanctify that water—sanctify all water—and make it an instrument by which he could reach inside and cleanse someone’s soul in baptism. He went down into that water to prepare it to transform you—and to give you your mission.

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it”—and you have accepted it. You accepted his mission. Wait, what? Yes! Did you forget? In your baptism and your confirmation you were anointed with the Holy Spirit; and you accepted Christ’s mission. For Christ was anointed as king, and as priest, and as prophet—all three roles perfectly fulfilled in himself; sometimes called the “triple munera.” And through your baptism and confirmation, you have been given a share in his three offices. For the Catechism tells us [738]: The whole People of God participates in these three offices of Christ and bears the responsibilities for mission and service that flow from them.

You are not simply free on leave. You are anointed and called to share in Christ’s mission

  • as prophet by listening carefully to his truth, taught faithfully by the Church; and speaking it to others.
  • And in his mission as priest, by entering into worship and prayer, and making your whole life a pleasing sacrifice to God.
  • And in his mission as king, by ordering your life, and seeking also to draw in the lives around you, under Christ’s benevolent kingly rule.

You have your mission; your share in Christ’s project of Redemption. This is a calling and a mission greater than that depicted in any movie. And you have accepted it.

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