I don't know why, but it never struck me until reading today's Gospel: Jesus baptized! I have always thought of John as the one who baptized Jesus, and then Jesus beginning His public ministry, performing miracles, forgiving sins, etc. But I never really thought about the fact that Jesus baptized people (cf. John 3:22). Imagine being baptized by the Lord Himself!
John obviously saw the writing on the wall and realized that his ministry (preparing the way) was drawing to a close. "This joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease.” (John 3:29b-30). I have to think that John was aware of the animosity he had created. He had to realize that his life was in jeopardy, especially after "calling out" Herod for unlawfully marrying the wife of his brother Philip (cf. Mark 6: 17ff). Despite this, he was not upset that Jesus was baptizing, realizing that both of them were doing the will of the Father.
I wonder what it must have been like for those people who were baptized by Jesus. Did they see it a symbolic of a change in their lives or just a ritual in which they participated? Did they think or act differently than those who were not baptized? Did the Lord have any expectations of them? Did their lives indeed change?
As we prepare for tomorrow's celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, I think we can ask ourselves these same questions. Did my Baptism indicate a change in my life, or was it simply a ritual? Do I think and act differently that others who are not baptized? What does God expect of me? How is my life different because I have received this gift of faith?
Especially in the U.S., where we say we place a high value on the equality of all people, it is difficult to think of those things that make us different. But if Baptism effects what philosophy refers to as an "ontological change" (i.e. a change in the very substance of the person), then all of the baptized are indeed different than those who are not baptized. This does not mean that I am more human, more worthy of respect, or more valuable than others. It DOES mean that I have greater responsibilities and obligations. I am required to treat others as brothers and sisters, as if they were Jesus. I am required to live according to certain laws (commandments, precepts, those enacted by proper authority, etc.). I have an obligation to speak, act and respond according to the teachings and example of Jesus.
Baptism, no matter who does it, does change things. Today, let's reflect on how it has changed us.