In the early Church there was a problem with distinguishing the place and relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist, especially when considering the question of baptism. John moved into a baptism that was a sign and symbol of repentance. Yet he baptized Jesus, who was in no need of repentance. There were those who heard John preach and thought he might be the Messiah, the anointed sent be God for the Jewish people. And even today’s first reading shows the confusion between the baptism received by John, and the baptism celebrated by the early Church after the resurrection of Jesus. So just what is the difference?
First, it is important to know that there was a qualitative difference between the two. Those who were baptized by John that we read about today did not know of the Holy Spirit, and it can be presumed, of John’s clarification of his role and that of Jesus.The baptism of John was a concrete sign of the desire to repent and believe in Jesus, who was to come, whose sandal John is not worthy of untying. John even says to Jesus that he should be baptized by Jesus, and not the other way around.
The baptism of John was a necessary preparation for the preaching of Jesus, insofar as it prepared people to know of the mercy of God for those who are willing to repent. It was the outcasts, the marginalized who embraced the preaching of John and his call to repent with great enthusiasm. It is the baptism of Jesus that fully removes sin, and enables us to enter into the deep relationship that leads to eternal life.
When they are baptized in the sacrament, they are transformed. They receive the Spirit, they become deeply aware of God and their relationship with him. Today we see baptism and confirmation in the reading from Paul. Do you ever think of how you are called to be changed because of your baptism and confirmation? Ideally these are moments when we are profoundly committed to the following of Jesus. These are moments when we become deeply aware of our choice to leave everything and follow Jesus wherever he may lead us. Will you follow Jesus?