Baptism and companionship

The Gospel reading for today centers around the moment of Jesus’ baptism. John baptizes Jesus, who has been praying before his own baptism, and the sky opens up, a dove descends on Jesus, and a voice proclaims, “You are my beloved son. With you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22).

Luke is emphasizing the significant difference between John and Jesus, each of whom had followings in their day. In Acts chapter 19, it is clear from Paul’s account that there existed people who followed John and lived according to his ascetic lifestyle, but who were not followers of Jesus. Luke as the gospel author clearly wants to situate John as preparatory for Jesus. Jesus is the Messiah and God’s son, and John is not—he is more like the excellent opening act of a talented performer at a top concert, but where we all know that the main show is yet to come. This is all part of Luke’s presentation of the drama of the story.

But when we consider what baptism means for us today, it’s a little more complicated. Jesus is baptized, and his baptism in the passage emphasizes his unique identity as God’s
“beloved son.” But we are also baptized into “one baptism” with Christ, according to St Paul (Ephesians 4:5). It is this baptism that makes us all beloved sons and daughters of God, and part of one human family. We are not the Savior, and we need Jesus to love us, save us, and to redeem our world. But also: we are invited into following Jesus and giving back to that world, assisting God with God’s redemption of the world, through being friends and companions to Jesus.

Following Jesus and becoming his friend is more than only doing what Jesus says to do, although surely it includes that. Jesus tells us to be more loving with one another, to carry bags for the extra mile, turn the other cheek, and to remember that God sees and witnesses everything in our lives and deaths, down to the number of hairs on our heads, and so we can live life without fear, since God is always taking care of us. Letting go of fear sets us free to love. These are all good things to do, and we may also discern what Jesus is leading us to do in our own individual lives through prayer and listening to God’s voice in prayer.

But there is more. Becoming a companion to Jesus also means growing into maturity of friendship that is more than only following, but also exercising our freedom to make choices that lead to peace and justice, that build up the bonds of brotherly love with others. When Peter preaches about Jesus’ healing ministry in Acts 10, he is not only speaking about a past event that those listening might find interesting. Peter and his companions are also themselves engaged in healing ministries. Jesus’ mission continues to be enacted in this world by the faithful who are baptized, who are invited to also taking up this ministry of working for peace and justice.

Today, on the day that we celebrate Jesus’ baptism, we might reflect on several things: First, and foremost, we might renew our relationship with Jesus if it is in need of renewal. Jesus is at the heart of all that we do and all that we are as Christians. Is Jesus center stage in our lives? Second, we might reflect back on our own “Johns” whether those people who baptized us (most of us will not remember, but some baptized as adults may), or those who helped to bring us closer to God and into friendship with Jesus, people who have been companions on the road. ‘

Last, we might consider how we also are God’s beloved sons and daughters and how being God’s beloved also brings us into closer relationship with the rest of God’s beloved family. What does this mean in terms of concrete action for our own lives? How does God want to use our own unique special gifts to build up peace, justice, and love in our world?  What do you feel called to do this week or in the weeks ahead to embody this love, the love into which our baptism calls us to live more freely?