In this week’s reading, John makes it clear that he is not the Christ, while Jesus himself shows solidarity with those who have been baptised. Fr Adrian Graffy reflects.
15 A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people, who were beginning to think that John might be the Christ, 16 so John declared before them all, ‘I baptise you with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’
21 Now when all the people had been baptised and while Jesus after his own baptism was at prayer, heaven opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily shape, like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’
Other readings: Isaiah 42:1-4,6-7 Psalm 28 (29) Acts 10:34-38
The final feast of the Christmas season is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Having celebrated his birth and his manifestation as the Messiah for all nations, it is appropriate to conclude the season with the event which begins his public ministry.
Our gospel reading contains two verses about the work of John the Baptist. John was a major figure during Advent, for it was he who prepared the way for the coming of Christ. Now we see him as the one who offered baptism to Christ in the Jordan. John clarifies that he himself is not the Christ. He knew he was a servant, one who would point the way to someone ‘more powerful’. John was a strong and effective preacher of forgiveness and new life. Jesus will show his power above all by his mighty works of healing. John alludes to the Spirit who will accompany the work of Jesus and to his new kind of baptism.
The evangelist Luke presents the baptism of Jesus in a unique way. Jesus, who is in no need of conversion himself, shows solidarity with all those coming to John for baptism. Luke hardly mentions the baptism itself but concentrates on the manifestation of the Spirit and on the voice heard. As so often in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is presented as praying after his baptism. It is as if he is at prayer as he awaits the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Most remarkable is Luke’s description of the Spirit ‘in bodily form’, whereby the evangelist insists on the reality of the Spirit’s presence. The vision is seen by all, and the voice similarly to be heard by all. The words are inspired by the Servant Song which is our first reading from the Book of Isaiah: ‘Here is my servant, in whom my soul delights.’
Why did Jesus seek baptism from John?
How similar is John’s baptism to that of Jesus?
Let us seek a renewal of the grace of our own baptism.
Let us prepare to accompany Jesus in Luke’s story of his ministry throughout the coming weeks.
Rev Dr Adrian Graffy is a member of the Vatican Commission that takes a lead in Bible scholarship, interpretation and promotion in the Catholic Church.
Rev Dr Graffy said of his five-year appointment by Pope Francis in 2014: “It is an honour to be nominated by Pope Francis as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. I feel humbled and very much look forward to being of service to His Holiness and the Church.”
He added: “A great deal has been achieved in England and Wales in recent years by many co-workers to advance Biblical scholarship and the provision of easy-to-use resources. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and the Bishops’ Conference Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis for their efforts to promote understanding and love of the Bible, particularly through the publication of the teaching documents, The Gift of Scripture and the study guide to Verbum Domini, The Word of the Lord.”
Rev Dr Graffy received his doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1983. He taught for over 20 years in St John’s Seminary in Wonersh, and is Chair of the National Scripture Working Group, which is an instrument of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Fr Graffy is a past director of Brentwood’s Commission for Evangelisation and Formation and parish priest of Christ the Eternal High Priest in Gidea Park, Essex. Among his publications are the Gospel of Mark and the Letter to the Romans (Alive Publishing).
Listen to BBC Essex interview with Fr Adrian Graffy