Today’s Gospel from Luke has Jesus declaring, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!” (Lk 12: 49)
One of my theology professors, I so vividly recall, emphasized how difficult it is for us to comprehend the reality of baptism in that we really cannot wrap our minds around the depths to which we as a people had fallen in sin until the death and resurrection of Jesus, nor can we really grasp the heights to which we are now called with Jesus in God.
In baptism, God works a miracle. He takes us and he radically reorients us away from sin and towards Him. It is a radical and complete rending away from an old way of life toward something very new and different. As St. Paul said this morning in our first reading, we no longer are “slaves to sin” but become “slaves of God.” (see Romans 6: 19-23)
The power of baptism is so immense that one is left grasping for an analogy to approximate it. For example, we all know that the earth is rotating on an axis in a certain direction. We don’t feel it but we know it is occurring. God’s miracle in baptism can be likened to God stopping the rotation of the earth and reversing it. Imagine the power and significance of that. Is there any wonder, then, why Jesus said he was in anguish until baptism should be accomplished?
Yes, such a radical and immensely powerful event is often misunderstood or trivialized by many people. We too often see it as a nice ritual, or perhaps as a “christening” but completely miss the reality. The liturgy of baptism is clear, but we miss its significance.
The power of baptism is such that the new direction in which it impels us cannot be easily reversed. Certainly, no earthly power can do so except the human will which, after becoming fully conscious of the gravity of an action and after sufficient reflection, chooses to say “no” to God’s saving action, to God’s baptismal miracle.
May God bring to completion what He has accomplished in us. May we rise to the heights of our call as sons and daughters of God, thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus and the power of the Spirit given to us in our baptisms.