Presentation of Christ at the temple (left) and the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist, assisted by an angel (right). Detail of carved and painted wooden doors, c.1065, now displayed at the west end of the south aisle. St. Maria im Kapitol, Cologne, Germany. Photo by David Joyal
Luke’s version of Jesus’ baptism describes the Spirit descending on Jesus in the physical form of a dove and the pronouncement of God’s affirmation of Jesus as Beloved Child. It appears that Jesus is both one of the crowd and set apart in a unique way. Still, this blessing is not the final story or the end of Jesus’ personal and spiritual growth; he must go on retreat in the wilderness to face the temptations of his vocation. Luke’s Jesus is one of us: fully human, seeking a tangible sign of his vocation. No doubt Jesus had prepared long and hard spiritually for a day such as this.
Perhaps, he and John the Baptist studied and prayed together and reflected as spiritual friends on God’s movements in their lives. I can imagine that at a particular moment, Jesus fully opened himself to God’s vision for his life. Jesus’ opening, however, was not predestined or predetermined but a response to God’s movements of illumination and grace in his life. Shaped by divine providence from childhood to adulthood, Jesus responded freely to the graces he had received. Fully alive, Jesus was fully open to embodying God’s vision in his own unique way, sharing God’s vision, energy, and power for the wholeness and salvation of humankind.
God is constantly choosing – each one of us! Divine choice emerges in light of our freedom and social context. God cannot eliminate these factors, but works tirelessly and lovingly to awaken us to the love that gives us life and light. Though apparently limited by our choices, God’s choices cannot ultimately be defeated. God’s path may be circuitous in light of the many forces that shape the world, but God never gives up one any “beloved child.” In the real world of celebration and tragedy, nothing can separate us from the gentle providence of God’s love.
By Richard Green