Jesus Sanctifies the Water of Baptism

Photography © by Andy Coan

Photography © by Andy Coan

At first glance, the scene makes little sense. John’s strident call to repentance provokes an overwhelming response. People of all shapes and sizes flock to him in the wilderness. They are baptized in the Jordan as a sign of repentance and cleansing.

Suddenly, out of the crowd steps John’s cousin, Jesus. Wait a minute. What’s Jesus, the sinless one, doing in a crowd of repenting sinners? What’s he doing coming forward to be baptized by John, who is by his own admission, is inferior to his cousin?

Jesus does not enter the water to be sanctified. No, the Holy One enters the water to sanctify. He empowers the water to become no longer just an outward sign, but a vehicle of the Holy Spirit bringing inner cleansing, rebirth, and transformation. Here Jesus institutes the sacrament of Christian baptism, something essentially different and greater than the baptism of John, which foreshadowed it.

Immediately after coming out of the water, the Spirit descends upon him in the form of a dove. Now another sacrament is instituted by Christ, the sacrament of confirmation or, as the Eastern churches call it, chrismation.

Notice that as the Spirit descends upon Jesus, the Father announces from heaven that this is His beloved Son. Here we have a majestic revelation of the Most Holy Trinity, one God in three persons. Then notice that Peter, speaking of this event in Acts 10:37, calls it Jesus’ “anointing.”

In the Old Testament, people were anointed with a special type of perfumed olive oil called “chrism” which was stored in a bull’s horn, a symbol of strength. The first people to be so anointed in the Old Testament were priests, authorized to offer sacrifice on behalf of the people. Then came prophets, anointed to proclaim God’s challenging and energizing word. Finally kings were anointed by God to save their people from their enemies. Actually, the reigning king of Judah was called the anointed one, “messiah” in Hebrew or, in Greek, “Christ.”

So this feast is Jesus’ “name day.” Of course he is the Word made flesh, full of the Spirit, and savior of Israel from the moment of his conception. But on this day, the Spirit anoints his human nature in a new way, empowering and equipping him for battle, for his mission to smash the oppressive powers of sin, Satan, and death, and to lead his people into freedom. He is anointed or “christened” not just as savior-king, but as perfect prophet who speaks God’s final word, and perfect priest who offers the perfect sacrifice taking away all sin.

Some wonder why we need the sacrament of confirmation. To some it appears to be an afterthought, as anticlimactic. After all, we receive the Spirit in baptism and receive Christ bodily in the Eucharist. So what else do we get when we are confirmed?

Simple. We receive our mission and the power to carry it out. For being a “Christian” is not about just “getting saved.” It’s about sharing in Christ’s anointing to transform the world. The mission is an essential part of the package, not an option. That’s why we are called “Christians” or anointed ones. It is not just priests and religious who are supposed to make it happen. Every single one of us is called and anointed. And that’s why confirmation is one of the essential sacraments of initiation. Without it, one is not fully incorporated into the Church, which is a missionary community.

The question for those of us who have received this power-packed sacrament is this – what are we doing with it?

Editor’s Note: Reflection on the Mass readings for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (Year C) –  Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Psalms 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10; Acts 10:34-38; Luke 3:15-16, 21-22. This series for reflections on the coming Sunday Readings usually appears each Wednesday.


Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118. This article originally appeared in Our Sunday Visitor and is reproduced here by permission of the author.


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About the Author

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118.

Raised in Italian/Irish neighborhood in Providence, RI, Marcellino D’Ambrosio never thought about being anything else but Catholic. But like other Catholic teens, his faith was the last place he looked for fulfillment. Following in the footsteps of his parents, both professional performers in their single years, Marcellino set his sights on stardom, playing bass guitar in several popular rock bands by the time he was 16. At that time he encountered a group of Catholics whose Christian life was an exciting adventure, an adventure worth living for. So he laid his bass guitar aside and embarked on a road that led to a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of the renowned Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, focused on one of the theological lights of the Second Vatican Council, Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and his recovery of biblical interpretation of the early Church fathers.

His writing has been published in the international journal Communio, Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, the Tablet, Catholic Digest, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service’s syndicated column "Faith Alive." His popular book, Exploring the Catholic Church and video course by the same name (known as Touching Jesus through the Church in the USA) have been used in hundreds of parishes all throughout the English speaking world. The Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about the Passion of the Christ, of which he is co-author and co-editor, may prove to be the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time with over a million copies sold in less than three months.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, the father of five and a business owner, brings to his teaching a practical, down-to-earth perspective that makes his words easy to understand and put into practice. Audio and video recordings of his popular teaching are internationally distributed. He often appears on the international Eternal Word Television Network is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington.

In 2001 Dr. D’Ambrosio left his position at the University of Dallas to develop the work of Crossroads Productions, the apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization that he co-founded twenty years ago, and to more directly oversee the growth of Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives physically, mentally, and financially. He, his wife Susan, and their five children, reside just outside of San Antonio, TX.

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