After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized…”
These words in our gospel today are very important to understanding what is actually happening in our celebration of this feast day. Today, we commemorate the moment when Jesus – the Son of God and Son of Mary – went to the Jordan River with all the other repentant sinners in Judea that day, and He was baptized just like everybody else. The one person who didn’t need it goes along with the crowd and receives the same symbolic bath that the others do. Why?
This is the significance of this feast day.
The fact that Jesus was baptized by John was quite a stumbling block for many early followers of Christ. If He was God, why be baptized “for the forgiveness of sins”? Certainly, Jesus knew what he was doing here, right?
Of course He did.
The significance of Jesus’ action – the reason He accepts baptism from John, along with all the people who were there – is that Jesus chooses to identify with us, and to accept responsibility for us as His sisters and brothers. He will not serve us from some distant point, separated and safe. No. Jesus chooses to be with us, to accompany us, to mentor us in the life of holiness.
And, because Jesus chose to do that, so should we. If we call ourselves disciples of Jesus, then we must walk the way that He walked, talk the way He talked, love the way He loved. In short, we too must accept responsibility for one another in the journey of discipleship and holiness. As a community in this Pastorate, we need to be responsible for and to one another. If our parish, or homes, or our world is messed up, whose fault is it? It’s ours. It’s our fault.
And therefore, it is up to us to do something about it.
Our Parishes should be places where we each model how to follow Christ; where our members mentor new generations of disciples, day after day. It’s not just “Father’s job”; it’s ours. Look around you: are there people missing from the pews that you normally see? Where are they? Why aren’t they here? Would you think to ask? Would you think to reach out? Do you even know how?
This is what we should dream our Parishes to be: a community of brothers and sisters who are responsible for one another and who strive to lead ourselves and each other toward holiness. It doesn’t just “happen.” It must be a deliberate choice – like Jesus going to be baptized with all those other people. He was one of them; He is one of us; and so are those folks who may or may not be here right now. When it comes to discipleship, relationship is everything.
Think about this: I am pastor of our two parishes. We have, perhaps, 5,000 parishioners. Within our boundaries, there are around 30,000 people. Does anyone expect me to convert all of those who are not parishioners? Is that even possible? Well, not for one person alone all along. However, if I invest time in a holy relationship with 2 people, guiding them to be disciples, we then have three; then if they and I do the same thing again, we will have nine; then twenty-seven, then 81, then 243, and so on. Now, all of a sudden, it seems more possible to touch the lives of so many people with relationships of faith. Can you do that? I can!
Jesus took responsibility for us and our salvation. As He walked the earth, He invested in a small group of twelve apostles (and even took a few of them aside alone at times). His model was one of authentic relationships and love. Look at us now. The challenge of the Baptism of the Lord is for us to take on that same responsibility – to be accountable to one another, to hold one another to standards of holiness, and to help each other grow closer to Christ. This is the call of our own Baptism.