This week’s Gospel reading begins with a powerful declaration from John the Baptist when he sees Jesus walking toward him, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29). To this day, “Lamb of God” has become the litany we pray or sing during the Breaking of the Bread in the Communion Rite of the Mass.
By pointing out that Jesus is the Lamb of God, John the Baptist reveals the sacrificial dimension of Jesus’ mission on earth. The Lamb of God is prefigured by the Passover lambs of the Exodus whose blood was a mark of divine protection for Israel and whose flesh was eaten in a liturgical meal. In Isaiah’s prophecy, Jesus is portrayed as the Suffering Messiah who silently allows himself to be led to slaughter and who bears the sins of the multitudes, “He was harshly treated, but unresisting and silent, he humbly submitted. Like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearer he did not open his mouth” (Ref. Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament on Jn 1:29, Ex 12:1-27, Is 53:7-12).
John the Baptist goes on to say that he comes baptizing with water so that “(Jesus) might be revealed to Israel” (Jn 1:31). Jesus is revealed as the Son of God during his Baptism while John the Baptist testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and remain on (Jesus) … the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I myself have seen and have testified that (Jesus) is the Son of God” (Jn 1:32-34). Indeed, the accounts of Jesus’ baptism in the synoptic gospels bear witness to the testimony of John the Baptist (Ref. Mt 3:16-17, Lk 3:21-28, Mk 1:9-13); as soon as Jesus is baptized and comes up from the water, the heavens open and the Spirit of God comes down like a dove and rest upon him. And a voice from heaven is heard, "This is my Son, the Beloved; he is my Chosen One" (Mt 3:16-17). The Baptism of Jesus also reveals the Blessed Trinity : the Father speaks, the Son is baptized and the Holy Spirit descends as a dove (ICSB NT on Mt 3:16).
Jesus is sinless and has no need for John’s Baptism, he nevertheless submits to the rite to identify with sinners and align himself with God‘s plan. Mystically, St. Thomas Aquinas sees that Jesus’ Baptism prefigures the Christian Sacrament of Baptism. The water, spirit and divine voice signify the effects of Baptism whereby the soul is cleansed, the grace of the Holy Spirit is imparted, and through faith, the recipient is adopted as a beloved child of God who “might walk in newness of life" (Ref ICSB NT on Mt 3:15, Rm 6:4).
When we contemplate Jesus’ Baptism and the grace we receive in our own — the invaluable identity of God’s beloved adopted children — are we ready to return the boundless love that God has for us and say to him “Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will” (Responsorial Psalm, Ps. 40:7-8)?