“The Baptism of the Lord”
Sometime ago while browsing on the internet I came across an amazing story which really struck me. There was a forest fire in a national park and a baby panda was caught up on a tree… it could not come down. The people who were trying to put out the fire were also trying to save this baby panda but the more they tried to go up the tree themselves, the more the baby panda was becoming scared, and every time it went further up the tree and worsened the situation for itself.
Then at one point one of the men had an idea. He hurried to his house nearby and got a panda costume that I supposed he had used for some tourist attraction. He started climbing the tree, while the others kept the fire down by throwing pails of water on it. This time on seeing this big panda coming up the tree, the baby panda was not afraid and it let itself be taken down in the man’s arms.
This story struck me for the tenderness that these people showed this helpless animal. It struck me for the length this man in particular was willing to go to save this baby panda. Without burning himself, the man had taken the trouble to become like a panda so as to save this creature. In so doing, this man shows us what a big heart he has.
This is very similar to what we see happening in the Gospel this Sunday. Without sinning, Jesus becomes like us also in baptism. Baptism was originally intended to outwardly show repentance. This is what John the Baptist was preaching.
Of course Jesus had no sins, and yet he goes down into the Jordan to show us how close he is to us. Indeed it is a prefiguration of his cross. The Baptism of Jesus is part of his Epiphany, together with the visit of the Magi and the miracle at Cana. The Greek word “epifania” means “manifestation”.
In the gesture of his baptism, Jesus manifests the loving and tender heart of the Father. This is the mercy of the Father for humanity, that he sent his only begotten Son to become like us even in Baptism, to sanctify the waters so that our own baptism, in turn, is no longer an outer ritual, but a ritual that cleanses us in an existential way and joins us to the Son, to become the adopted children of God.
Dc Robert Falzon SDB, Salesian Community, Limerick, Ireland