God's Purposes Fulfilled

Detail from a 19th-century carved mother-of-pearl shell which is used in baptisms.
Baptismal shell by Lawrence Lew OP at flickr.com

Baptism of Christ                             

Isaiah 55.1-11          

Isaiah 12           

1 John 5.1-9           

Mark 1.7-11


The word does not return to me empty [1].   The incarnation achieves its purpose.  God reveals himself to us in Jesus Christ our saviour.  No sooner had he come up out of the water than he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit like a dove descending on him [2]. Such a revelation is an epiphany.  There was an epiphany to the magi in Bethlehem: there is another on the banks of the Jordan where John baptizes; later there is still another at the wedding celebration at Cana in Galilee. He let his glory be seen and his disciples believed in him [3].  The epiphanies of the Lord enable us to see God’s will to speak to us, to allow us to know him and to enable us, if we desire, to submit our lives to him. Pay attention, come to me: listen and, and your soul will live [4].   He reveals himself to us in Christ.  The child was born and some were enabled to recognise his divinity.  God is also revealed in baptism and the other sacraments through which the work of Jesus and his Spirit continue.  There is a revelation of Lord also in all that he does, as at Cana, to complete what is lacking in us and to fill abundantly that in us, which we discover to our dismay, is empty. This is God’s testimony, given as evidence for his Son [5].


I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit [6].  John the Baptist is like the servants at Cana who filled the jars with water [7].  John made the necessary preparation: Jesus was baptised in the Jordan by John [8].  The Lord did not need to be baptised.  His mission, however, required him to bring home to us our need of being baptised in him.  John completed his own task by putting Christ into the waters of baptism.  All who have been baptised since have found the Lord in those waters.  Like the wine at Cana, the water of baptism is abundant and good.  You have kept the best wine until now [9].  All the other prophecies led up to John the Baptist’s recognition of Jesus.  The Christ whom we meet in baptism and in the other sacraments is the best wine which is not always offered immediately.  Prepared by John and others, we allow ourselves to be made ready to meet the Lord sacramentally. Seek the Lord while he is still to be found, call to him while he is still near [10].  God’s reaching out to us is never futile but our response is also important.  Watering the earth and making it yield [11].  The sacraments flow abundantly towards us working their wonders in whoever they touch. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation [12].  The sacramental life invites our fullest participation.  Baptism and the other epiphanies of this kind transform lives which have declared themselves open to such change and have been made ready. His mother said to the servants do whatever he tells you [13]. The Lord’s submitting to being baptised by John tells us that we needed to be baptised also, and in Christ.  By obeying Jesus’ commands, we allow the waters of baptism to transform us. His commandments are not difficult, because anyone who has been begotten by God has already overcome the world [14].


The sacraments, instituted by Christ, are continuing his presence and his work in the Spirit.  Baptism is a revelation of God which carries out his will and succeeds in what it was sent to do [15]. Our past imperviousness to such epiphanies and our forgetfulness of our baptismal promises can makes us wonder if the sacraments are working in our case.  God’s reaching out is never futile but perhaps it is others who are being properly responsive?  See you will summon a nation you never knew, those unknown will come hurrying to you [16].  Has the Baptist’s call to repentance moved us? Has Mary’s gentle recommendation to do what Jesus tells us been heeded?  Have we been faithful to what was promised at our baptism?  Let us be encouraged by the assurance that God does not send us good things expecting them not to work.  Baptism and the other sacraments do not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what they were sent to do.  They are epiphanies, meetings with Christ.  They bring us back close to God.  The sacraments have something in common with the precious gifts of the magi.  They are a receiving of the Lord’s offering of himself to us and they are an offering of ourselves in return.  The sacraments are also like the miracle of Cana in their abundance and in the wonder of the transformation they effect. The baptism of the Lord by John illuminates the whole of sacramental life .  Jesus approaches us who are so unworthy.  I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals [17].  Although he is God, he allows himself to be immersed in our condition.  He changes everything.  The Father’s approval comes: You are my Son the Beloved: my favour rests on you [18].  Despite our unworthiness, the sacraments share that divine praise with us. God who is rich in forgiving [19]. Such is the perfection of Christ’s help, sacramentally re-enacted, that even we, who have been so unresponsive until now, benefit and not in small measure. The best wine is given to us unstintingly.


The wine, poured out sacramentally, is the Lord’s blood. Who can overcome the world? Only the man who believes that Jesus is the Son of God:  Jesus Christ who came by water and blood [20].   The one whom John immerses in the waters of the Jordan is also the one who will go down into the grave after Calvary and then rise again at Easter.  We who are baptised in him are baptised not only in water but in his blood.  We enter the tomb with him and know his resurrection also.  The purification, which the sacrament achieves, is even better than cleansing by water.  We are washed clean by the blood of the Lamb.  We pray that the oblation of your faithful may be transformed into the sacrifice of him who willed in his compassion to wash away the sins of the world [21].  The waters of baptism close over us like Christ’s sepulchre: we emerge from them in his resurrection.  Holy communion bring us with Jesus to the Cross, both its failure and its triumph.  The sacraments are a meeting with the Lord in which, again and again, we are invited to become like him.  Sacramentally, our life is configured to his.  We live, die and rise with him.  This does not happen haphazardly.  God offers all this to us intending that his gift should be accepted and that it should succeed in what it was sent to do.  With the help of the Holy Spirit we make, in return, offerings we have brought to honour the revealing of your beloved Son [22].   We allow ourselves to be lifted up  to God who reveals and gives himself to us.  We do so, humbly aware that he has given us the power to thwart him. Inexplicably, we have sometimes availed ourselves of this freedom.   We are now eager to allow Christ once more into our life to do that which it was always intended that he should do.  He approaches us in sacramental epiphanies which have the humility of the birth in a stable, the self-effacement of John the Baptist and the poverty of the wedding at Cana. These simple epiphanies are, however, not without éclat.   He saw the heavens torn apart [23].  It is God who comes near to us in these sacred acts.  The sacraments are rich treasures offered by the wisest of kings.  They have the splendour of divine blessing, like that at the Jordan.  They have the abundance and joy of the celebration at Cana.  In these wonderful moments, which are glimpses of eternity, Jesus is very close. The Holy Spirit dwells in us.  We are brought to the Father.


Peter Gallagher SJ


[1]              Isaiah 55.11    As the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without

watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the

eating, so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty without carrying out my

will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.  Isaiah 55.10-11

[2]              Mark 1.10

[3]              John 2.11

[4]              Isaiah 55.3

[5]              1 John 5.9

[6]              Mark 1.8

[7]              John 2.7

[8]              Mark 1.9

[9]              John 2.10

[10]             Isaiah 55.6

[11]             Isaiah 55.10

[12]             Isaiah 12.6

[13]             John 2.5

[14]             1 John 5.3-4

[15]             Isaiah 55.11

[16]             Isaiah 55.5

[17]             Mark 1.7

[18]             Mark 1.11

[19]             Isaiah 55.7

[20]             1 John 5.5-6

[21]             The Roman Missal, Sunday after the 6th January, the Baptism of the Lord, Prayer over the Offerings

[22]             ibid.

[23]             Mark 1.10