Before he began his ministry Jesus received a baptism from John the Baptist. Why did Jesus receive this baptism? Do you think that Jesus had the same baptism that we have in the Christian church as the initiation rite?
During the time of Jesus at least there were three kinds of baptisms. In the mystic religions of the 1st century, the leaders of each sect baptised their believers in order to have a mystic relationship with their believers. When Gentiles became Jews they had a kind of baptism. They were not baptised by anybody, but they went through water to symbolise the new life. John the Baptist gave the baptism of repentance.
When Jesus started his ministry he called people to repent and believe in the Good news. Therefore according to Jesus repentance was essential to enter into the Kingdom of God. Then why did Jesus receive this baptism from John the Baptist? One needs to have sins to repent. But Jesus was sinless.
Perhaps the only reason we can think of this act of Jesus is that he wanted to identify with sinful humanity. He was the only person who was sinless. But he knew that if he was to redeem them from sin it was necessary to identify with them.
Therefore as Jesus was baptised he had an experience of death on behalf of the sinful humanity. Because one of the main purposes of baptism is to die for the old self and to be raised as a new human being. As Jesus was baptised he went through this reality by identifying with sinful humanity.
Today as we commemorate the baptism of Jesus Christ, we are called to reflect on the implications of his baptism on us, as his followers in the 21st century. Through our baptism as Jesus did we are called to identify with humanity.
But often we Christians think that we are holy and others are sinful. In the colonial era, Christians used baptism as a rite to get more privileges from the colonial governments. For instance, Christians used the baptismal certificate to get employment and to admit their children into good schools.
Even up to date, up to a certain extent Christians use baptism to get these privileges.
Giving an appropriate theological meaning for Christian baptism Father Aloysius Peiris says that today we Christians in Asia have to go through 2 baptisms.
We are called to be baptised in the religiosity of Asia and to be crucified in the poverty of this continent. According to Father Peiris, crucifixion is a baptism and baptism is a crucifixion. In baptism, the believer experiences death as he is baptised to have a new life. On the other hand, as Jesus was crucified and died for the sinful humanity he experienced baptism on the cross.
Today if we are to identify with the people of our country we have to have these two baptisms. Here I need not elaborate on the religiosity of Sri Lanka as you are surrounded by this reality. As we worship in our churches we realise how we are isolated physically and mentally from other religiosities around us. It is up to you and to me to wrestle with this issue.
I know you do many programmes to help the poor people in this area. This is good and necessary. But with our baptism, we are called to take another step to identify with these people. Do we really experience the plight of these people? At least experience this in a small way. If you really want to identify with them go and live with them for just one day eating and sleeping with them.
Today I would like to place these 2 challenges for the baptised. Try to experience their religiously and poverty as we are called to identify with our people in our context through our baptism. Do this as a spiritual exercise. I have no doubt that this experience will make you a better Christian and a follower and disciple of Christ.