Life in the Spirit

Closing the Christmas Season is the celebration of the event at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. The gospel account (Luke 3:15-16, 21-22) taps on Jesus’ heavenly confirmation, while also uncovering the meaning of our own baptism by Jesus.

The anointed one of the Holy Spirit

AT the start of His ministry, Jesus is presented by Luke as anointed and consecrated by the Holy Spirit. As the Spirit descends on Him, the acknowledgment and approbation of God: “You are my beloved son. On you my favor rests.” Jesus is the Son filled with the Spirit of God. He definitely understands himself as the “one anointed” (the christos) by the Spirit of God (Luke 4:18), the bearer of the Spirit quenched by the sin of the people. The Spirit of God has returned to the world in and through Jesus, present to Him at his very conception and at His birth (Luke 1:35), with Him in the desert, during His prayer, in His miracles, at His resurrection.

In the face of the people’s expectation that John the Baptizer might be the Anointed One, Luke portrayed John as denying that he was the awaited messiah or the Christ. The man himself turned the attention from his person to Jesus, the more powerful one to come whose sandals He was not fit to undo, an act of a disciple/slave for his master. In further clarification, the evangelist contrasted John’s lesser baptism with water against the greater sign of the baptism “with the Holy Spirit and fire” made possible by Jesus for our salvation. And downplaying the baptism of Jesus by John in the river by relegating it to a subordinate clause “after being also baptized,” Luke stressed that it was while he was praying that Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit.

Baptized with the spirit

JESUS was primordially baptized with the Holy Spirit; in His humanness He was anointed and filled with Spirit, and so in full communion with God. That is why in His name believers can now be baptized with the Holy Spirit and thus as though purified by fire. Our Christian sacrament of baptism is above all a baptism in the Holy Spirit, our initiation to a new life in the Spirit in communion with the Father and the Son. It is this intimacy of Jesus Himself with the Father in the Holy Spirit that is given special emphasis in Luke’s characteristic detail: “Jesus was at prayer.” Jesus is consistently said to be at prayer in connection with the big events of his ministry: before choosing His disciples (6:12) and announcing His passion (8:18), at the transfiguration (9:28), before teaching His disciples how to pray (11:2), at the last supper (22:32), in His agony (22:41) and on the cross (23:48).

The importance of prayer in the life of Jesus and therefore in our lives as His followers is here underscored. As Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit and enjoyed communion with the Father and the Spirit especially while at prayer, so also his faithful ones become empowered by the Spirit and by prayer to be able to live in union with God. The apostolic community believed so and lived so (Acts 1:14; 2:42; 4:31; 12:12). For Luke, prayer is a means of discipleship, a necessary way of integrating faith and life, and a vital defense if one is to survive sufferings and persecutions, superficiality and distractions.

Alálaong bagá, to be a baptized Christian today means to be identified with Jesus baptized and anointed with the Holy Spirit: filled with Christ’s Holy Spirit, and favored by God’s love, and empowered for the Christian mission in the world. And all this is actualized to us and celebrated by us in prayer—in the liturgy (the Church at prayer), that begins in baptism and continues and climaxes in the Eucharist. It is here that we are in full communion with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. That makes our Sunday Eucharist, our life-giving prayer par excellence, a necessity of incomparable value, without which one cannot be a follower of Jesus Christ in the world today.

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Msgr. Sabino Vengco Jr.

Msgr. Sabino Azurin Vengco, Jr., SThD, is a priest of the Diocese of Malolos, hailing from Hagonoy, Bulacan. His more than fifty years of priestly life and ministry has been focused on teaching the faith in various theological faculties and also on mass media, and inlooking after the welfare of elderly and sick Filipino priests nationwide.

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