Christ baptizes in the Holy Spirit

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2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A: Jan.15-16, 2011
Isa 49:3, 5-6; Ps 40; 1 Cor 1:1-3; John 1:29-34

John the Baptist was a dramatic figure. He was out in the desert; and he wore clothing made of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. He preached repentance to prepare for the coming Messiah, and he baptized with water those who responded to his message. And he drew quite a crowd. St. Matthew tells us [3:4-5]: At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him.

And in our Gospel reading today, with a crowd of people around him, John is pointing at a man who is coming toward them. A mysterious figure who they can all see, coming toward them; yet it seems that he does not actually arrive and speak to them; not that day. But John has plenty to say about him:

  • Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
  • He ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.
  • The reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.
  • I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him.
  • He is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.
  • He is the Son of God.

And yet Jesus doesn’t actually meet the crowd on this occasion. But John has said so much about him! Who is this man? What will he do? What will he say? Will I ever have the chance to meet him?

Now, simply to identify anyone with the Holy Spirit was sure to seize the attention of the Jewish people. For they knew from their history, in the Old Testament, what it could mean for the Spirit of the Lord to come upon someone.

In their early history as a confederation of tribes in the Holy Land, the Spirit of the Lord had come upon several individuals to raise them up as “Judges”—as leaders to deliver the people from their enemies and to govern them. These few individuals—men and some women—were each chosen, without expecting it. From being ordinary sons and daughters of peasants, they were abruptly changed. They were made capable of heroic deeds. Among the Judges were Samson, Gideon, and Saul, the first king. These few were transformed by the Spirit of the Lord.

And then, while the people were governed by kings—first as one kingdom and then divided into two—the Lord raised up prophets to call them and their leaders back to the Covenant they had made with the Lord. Each of these prophets had experienced a dramatic call—that began a vivid, lifelong relationship between them and God. They were given messages that they had to deliver, about the future but especially about the present. And their words were given power—such as when Elijah proclaimed the drought that lasted for three years.

It was not an easy life. They were set apart; and often they suffered, in one way or another. But it was clearly a very distinctive and powerful life. It was real; there was no mistaking it. And it was the life and calling of a very few; with the vast majority looking on from the outside. Perhaps you would envy their life and relationship with God; perhaps you would be glad you had not been called to it. But, either way, it was clear that it was them and not you.

The people knew all this from their history. And they could see that John the Baptist was moved and empowered by the Holy Spirit. And he was testifying that he had seen the Spirit come down upon this man Jesus and remain upon him. And while John baptized in water [John 1:26]—he dipped in water or he immersed them in water, as a sign of their repentance—John was telling them that this man Jesus would baptize them in the Holy Spirit.

To be baptized in the Holy Spirit! To be washed, immersed, reborn in the Holy Spirit! What could that mean?

It would mean that the prophecies were coming true. For long ago Moses had wished [Num 11:29]: “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!” And the prophet Joel had later said [3:1 or 2:28]: “afterward I will pour out my spirit upon all mankind.” And Ezekiel [36:26]: “I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you…”

When our Lord Jesus baptizes through the hand and voice of his minister, he does cleanse us, forgive us, transform us, make us an adopted son or daughter of God, and a member of his Body the Church—and a temple of the Holy Spirit.

What is it like to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit? Remember that the only time he is depicted as a dove is in the baptism of Jesus. The rest of the time, the ways he manifests himself are not so tame. Sometimes in the Old Testament, it was as a bright cloud or a pillar of fire. At Pentecost, his coming was signaled by a strong driving wind and tongues of fire [Acts 2:2-3]. And as Jesus explained to Nicodemus [John 3:8], “The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Jesus Christ is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit. And he has baptized you and anointed you with his Spirit, who is like a fire or a strong driving wind.

  • So is your life as different as the lives of the prophets?
  • Is it obvious to everyone around you that you have been called?
  • Are you in living communication with the Lord, minute to minute?
  • Are you doing his work, his mission, as he gives it to you in your own life?
  • Is there a great force of movement and change visible in your life, that moves you and others toward holiness?

In Christ, the Lord says to you: “You are my servant, through whom I show my glory.” You have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy. You share in his priesthood, “in his prophetic and royal mission”“a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” [CCC 1265, 1268] Through you the Lord wishes to reveal Christ, his light to the nations, so that his salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.

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Published in: on January 16, 2011 at 12:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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