Do you know the date of your baptism? I know the month of mine, but have to admit I’m not really sure about the date. But when was the last time you even thought about your baptism? Most of us don’t remember much about our baptism day, having been to young for it to really register in our memories. In some ways, our lack of knowledge about our baptisms is sad, because baptism is, we believe, a radically life-changing event.
In the sacrament of baptism, our sins are washed away. For those of us baptized as infants, that means our original sin. For those baptized as adults, that also includes any personal sins committed up to that time. Baptism also gives us the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which fills us with grace to participate in the mission of Christ in this world. So those waters of baptism are powerful ones: they wash away our sinfulness and give us the grace to be who we were created to be.
Today, Jesus himself is baptized. Which is odd: he certainly didn’t need to be cleansed from sin, which was the type of baptism John the Baptist was doing. But there was a reason for it. Jesus told John to allow it for now. This was how Christ desired to be one with us, to be manifest to us. By entering the waters of baptism, Jesus makes those waters holy. When we then enter the waters of baptism, we are made holy – that never could have happened if Jesus had not been baptized. By being baptized, Jesus identifies himself with sinners; pledges to be one with them and make salvation possible. Today’s Gospel story is an incredibly significant event.
So if Jesus Christ identified himself with us sinners through baptism, then we who have been baptized must also identify ourselves with him. We must manifest him in the world through living the Gospel and following in his ways. Today we hear in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles that Jesus, having been anointed with the Holy Spirit, “went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil.” That’s the model he set for all who would be baptized as he was. So we baptized ones must do the same.
It is easy to see how we can go about doing good. There are thousands of opportunities to do that in our lives. Children and young people can do good by obeying their parents, being kind to brothers, sisters and friends, attending to their school work, and praying for those who are needy. Adults can strive to lead godly lives, raising families in peace, working diligently at their jobs, and being of service to the community. Every day there is an opportunity to do good in ordinary and extraordinary ways. All we have to do is decide to live our baptismal call and do it.
Healing those oppressed by the devil might seem harder to do. But there are lots of ways to cast out demons. Teaching something to another person is a way to cast out the demons of ignorance. Reaching out to an elderly neighbor is a way to cast out the demons of loneliness. Educating ourselves on the evils of racism is a way to cast out the demons of hatred. Bringing food to the food pantry, or volunteering at a soup kitchen or loaves and fishes is a way to cast out the demons of poverty and hunger and homelessness. Visiting the sick, or picking up medication or groceries for a sick neighbor, is a way to cast out the demons of illness. We have opportunities to heal those oppressed by the devil all the time. All we have to do is decide to do it.
Today we are called upon to remember our baptism, and perhaps to think about it in a slightly different light. We should remember that our baptism was made possible by Christ’s baptism and above all by his saving sacrifice. Given that extraordinary price, we must always be mindful of how important that baptism is. We can live our baptism every day: all we have to do is decide to do it.