Breath of the Spirit Reflection: In Jesus’ Baptism All Are Immersed in Love

Scripture scholars have debated for centuries as to why Jesus, whom our tradition maintains was born without sin, allowed himself to be baptized by John. Although we will never know, perhaps that is not the crucial question. Instead, one might ask what the early Christians took as the message Jesus’ baptism, and what lesson it might still have for us today? To be baptized is to be immersed in water when water is a metaphor (sacrament) for Love. Today’s reflection shares God’s immersive love with us with its words as well as in the author’s soulful rendition of the Spiritual, “Take Me to the Water.” As we embark on this new year, may both text and song add to our awareness of the always outpouring and abundantly overflowing Love which all of creation makes manifest.

January 9, 2022: Baptism of the Lord 
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7, or Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11 
Psalm 29:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, or 104:1b-2, 3-4, 24-25, 27-28, 29-30 
Acts of the Apostles 10:34-38 or Titus 2:11-14, 3:4-7 
Luke 3:15-16, 21-22 
 
 A reflection by Ann Marie Szpakowska 
 
Take Me to the Water 
Take me to the water. 
Take me to the water. 
Won’t you take me to the water to be baptized? 
 
None but the Righteous, 
None but the Righteous, 
None but the Righteous shall see God. 
 
How I love Jesus! 
How I love Jesus! 
How I love Jesus! Yes, I do! 
 
Glory, Halleluiah. 
Glory, Halleluiah. 
I must sing my, “Halleluiah.” I’ve been baptized. 

The Common Lectionary proscribes a sequence of readings following the celebration of Christ’s birth: the adoration of the Magi, the Baptism of the Lord, and the Wedding Feast at Cana. These stories start our secular year. The Orthodox church names each of these events as “epiphanies,” or manifestations of God’s presence in Jesus. This Sunday directs our attention to Jesus’ baptism. Although all the gospels include a version of this event (which supports its historical veracity) and each writer includes their particular theological nuance, it is noteworthy that all of the gospels have Jesus baptized before beginning public ministry. 

Similarly, we view the waters of baptism as the doorway to the Christian life. Cradle Catholics old enough to have their baptism precede the digital age may not remember their baptisms except for an old photograph in their parents’ photo album. There are two such images in my family’s album, taken at the door of Notre Dame de Lorette in Paris. Considering my parents were excommunicated because of my father’s previous un-annulled marriage, it was truly an indication of their belief in the importance of the sacrament. 

The Catholic Church does not believe in the need for rebaptism when Christians, validly baptized into other denominations, convert to Catholicism. Hurrah for the universality of the Church and for ecumenism! Not all Christian churches, however, extend this theological courtesy, particularly, those churches who require adult baptisms (inheritors of the Anabaptist tradition). These debates about the practice of baptism date back to the Reformation when theologians disagreed about the necessity of personal volition in the effects of the sacrament. Strikingly, America Magazine reported recently (11/17/21) on the growing popularity of the Italian practice of “abattezzo,” or debaptism. It formalizes a person’s abandonment of the Church. Although, Catholicism teaches that baptism cannot be undone as it leaves an “indelible mark” on its recipients’ souls, it is true that children are sometimes brought into the fold for reasons more cultural than spiritual. One wonders as to the impact of such an “indelible mark,” if it is not bolstered by subsequent Christian teaching and example. 

Did Jesus have to be baptized? Christian tradition teaches he was born without sin, yet he stepped into the waters of the Jordan and presented himself to his cousin, John. Jesus was not seeking to be John’s disciple. On the contrary, the gospel writers make clear the hierarchical nature of that relationship when John declares, “I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals (John 1:27), or “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16). Instead, at the core of the Scriptural baptism stories is God’s affirmation of Jesus, In Luke’s version, “You are my beloved … in you I am well pleased” (3:22). From the strength of this affirmation, Jesus began public ministry. Herein lies the core of the early church’s understanding of baptism: indelible affirmation of God’s love which leads to a life of sharing that love with others. 

As LGBTQ+ human beings, we too are God’s beloved. Our lovedness is rooted not in whom we love but in the Divine love for us. Our discipleship – that is, our call to share that love with others – is rooted in our baptism, vocalized in the promises made either by us, if we were old enough, or for us, if we were infants. Whenever one attends Mass, they have an opportunity to publicly and personally reaffirm these promises in the recitation of the Creed or the renewal of those promises. In doing so, and just from signing ourselves with holy water, we are reminded of God’s overwhelming love for us and our call to share that love with others. Paul reminds us that “nothing can separate us from the love of God,” and “in God everything was created … and continues in being.” Jesus’ baptism reminds us that what we do with this unmerited and unmitigatable gift is up to us. 
 

 

Ann Marie Szpakowska has been active and in leadership of Dignity/Buffalo for nearly 40 years. She also participates in the Women's Caucus and has been an active contributor to Liturgical planning for Dignity's Conventions, Conferences and on Feminist Liturgy Committees over many years. She has presented workshops both locally and at Dignity Conventions.

She has also been a member of St. Martin de Porres parish since 4 inner city churches merged and built a new sanctuary in 1993. St. Martin de Porres is a predominantly African American community in Buffalo, New York.