|John Baptizes Jesus -- MAFA (Cameroon)|
As we move from the Feast of the Epiphany (Jan 6th) to the Baptism of Christ (Jan 11th) we fast forward through the life of Christ by nearly three decades. Yet, though they are separated by quite a stretch of historical time, both celebrations fall into the same liturgical season -- 'Epiphany'. This is because the visit of the Magi to the stable and the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, along with the wedding at Cana, are ‘epiphanic moments’, which is to say, occasions which make manifest the fact that those who encounter the person of the historical Jesus are encountering the eternal Christ.
|Leonardo da Vinci's Baptism of Christ|
Only Matthew's Gospel has the story of the Magi. Only John's Gospel has the wedding at Cana. But all four Gospels relate the one time that Jesus and John the Baptist encounter each other -- when John baptizes Jesus. This year the Lectionary uses Mark’s version, and in it John makes it plain that while he offers a ‘washing away of sin’, the coming of Jesus will complete this, with a spiritual transformation.The reading from Acts shows that John's placing himself in a secondary, preparatory position to Jesus, was one that the early Christians believed and affirmed.
There is a theological puzzle here, however. If baptism is 'washing away of sin', the sinless Jesus cannot need it. Why then does he submit to it? By this action, however, Jesus declares his identification with humanity, and shows repentance to be a precondition of a transformation that is possible even for sinful human beings. The descending of the dove is the ‘epiphany’ of this story. Quite suddenly, something of the greatest importance is revealed to us -- that divinity can perfect humanity.