Baptism of the Lord: you are a priest, prophet and king
Soon after epiphany we celebrate the baptism of the Lord. The Liturgy of epiphany revealed the mystery of God’s plan—that in Jesus all peoples, symbolized by the Magi, have been made "coheirs” to the blessings promised to Israel. This week, we’re shown how we claim our inheritance.
On this feast day, we can’t blame if someone doubts: why did Jesus, the sinless Son of God, receive the "baptism of repentance" meant for sinners?
Jesus received John’s baptism to identify himself with his people, who, as a result of John's preaching, for the first time in Jewish history became aware of their sins and of their need for repentance. The Jews had the traditional belief that only the Gentiles who embraced Jewish religion needed the baptism of repentance, for, as God's chosen people, the Jewish race was holy.
Jesus doesn’t submit to John’s baptism as a sinner in need of purification. He humbles Himself to pass through Jordan’s waters in order to lead a new “exodus”—opening up the promised land of heaven so that all peoples can hear the words pronounced over Jesus today, words once reserved only for Israel and its king: that each of us is a beloved son or daughter of God. So Jesus’ baptism shows us what would happen to all of us in our baptism.
Two things stand out: Heaven was opened and then a voice is heard. The "heaven was opened” may be understood in both a natural and supernatural way: a break in the clouds but also a new opening of access to the realm of God. Through baptism we also enter into a new realm.
Secondly the voice: "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” This statement of the Father echoes several important passages of Scripture:
(1) “Abraham, take your beloved son Isaac, whom you love”. (Gen 22:2). This is the introduction to the account of the sacrifice of Isaac, in which Isaac is thrice called the "beloved son”. This allusion shows Jesus as a new Isaac, the beloved Son who will sacrifice himself on the holy mountain out of love for God and for his Father.
(2) "You are my son, today I have begotten you.” (Ps 2:7) This is the royal coronation hymn that the new king was to recite as he ascended the throne. It is an affirmation of the Davidic covenant, by which each heir to the throne had the privilege of a filial (sonship) relationship with God who promised to king David: “I will be his father, and he shall be my son” (2 Sam 7:14). This echo implies that Jesus is the Son of David, the heir to the throne of Israel. In fact, the baptism comprises the washing and anointing ceremony by which each son of David marked the beginning of his reign. That is why, if you note, shortly after the baptism, Jesus begins to preach, “The kingdom of God has arrived.” Indeed, it has because he has begun his royal reign.
(3) "Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him” (Isaiah 42:1). The passages show that Jesus is the mysterious “servant” of Isaiah, who is marked with God’s Spirit, comes to preach good news to the poor (Isa 61:1–2) and will suffer and die to redeem many (Isa 52:13–53:12).
Thus, Jesus is the fulfilment of the whole Old Testament expectation: the new Isaac, the new David and the Isaianic suffering Servant. That means through baptism we too become the beloved sons and daughters of God and priests, kings and prophets.
Who's a priest? A priest is someone who makes prayers and sacrifices on behalf of the people to God. He is someone who prays for the people to God on their behalf and is a mediator between humanity and divinity. So as priests we must be a person of prayer especially intercessory prayer for the sake of others. When someone says, "could you please pray for me”, they're in a sense awakening our priesthood, our identity as a priest. So, as parents do you pray for your kids on a regular basis? Do you intercede for them in a priestly way? Children, do you pray for your parents? Husbands do you pray for your wives? Wives do you pray for your husbands? That's a priestly obligation that we all have.
And as a priest do you offer sacrifice on regular basis? Now you may be doubting, I will explain you. There is a pivotal prayer during every Holy Mass. Priests say right before the prayer over the gifts: "pray brethren that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the father almighty”. He's not saying that you pray that my sacrifice that I’m uniquely offering, No, but that my sacrifice and yours. In other words, all the people at Holy Mass are joining themselves to the sacrifice of the priest who's joined to the great sacrifice of Christ himself to the father. So, the point is, every baptised who gathered there in the Mass is a priest. That's why just before this we take up the collection. Because we are sacrificing something for the sake of others. We're expressing a priestly act in the donation that we give. So don't stay away from the source and summit of the Christian life which is Holy Eucharist. That's when our priesthood is most fully expressed.
The second is kingship. Through Baptism we become kings. We are called to guard ourselves and those who are subject to us from enemies, poverty and injustices. Poverty not only of money but also of love and truth. Many times the dogs in our house eat well, indeed, too much than that of poor children who do not have parents. The same applies to injustice. We are happy to keep a black cat in our homes and caress it, and a black man instead? What is our attitude towards them? Where is the human dignity? And then who are our enemies? Pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. We need to conquer all of them. What I mean is getting a mastery over oneself. If there's all kinds of conflicting desires and impulses and tendencies in us, then we're not going to move effectively toward the kingdom of God. But if we get control of our life in such a way that we can order our mind, our will, our passions, our private life and our public life all in the direction of God, then we've got a kingly sovereignty, a kingly authority over ourselves and that by the way will enable us to become a much more efficacious king in regard to those around us. It does not mean that we need to conquer all at a time. No, we cannot, we will not win at all. We need to take one enemy at a time. So that we can eliminate them completely from our lives. Remember the first king of Israel, Saul who was removed from his throne because he did not eliminate completely his enemies. So, to eliminate them completely is so important.
Thirdly we are prophets. Prophet is somebody who speaks the words of God. That means we must speak not our thoughts but God’s words. There are so many prophets in the bible are summoned by God to speak on his behalf. Jeremiah says, “Lord don't choose me, for I’m too young”, but the Lord says, "don't say you're too young, a prophet to the nations I’ve appointed you”. Isaiah says, "I’m a man of unclean lips” and the Lord purifies his lips and then Isaiah says send me to speak. We too may be too young and unclean but we're prophets too. We've been anointed as prophets, if we're baptized, to speak the words of God. So, let us ask ourselves do we read the word of God regularly? Do we speak publicly about our faith? Do we let people know that we're a catholic and are we proud of it? That's part of prophecy.
So Dear ones, let us renew our baptism this day and ask God’s grace to fulfil our mission as priests, kings and prophets.