Responsible Disciples

Fr Ryan Black reflects on the responsibility that comes with discipleship.

Today, our brothers and sisters around the world join us in celebrating the wonderful feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Today, Jesus was baptised by John in the Jordan; the King was baptised by His soldier; the Lord was baptised by His servant.

Growing up, this feast always confused me – if baptism cleanses us from the stain of sin, why would the Son of God seek to be baptised? If He is like us in all ways but sin, why should He concern Himself with John’s baptism? These are questions that I asked myself for years. To answer them, we must ask ourselves: why did Jesus do any of the things He did? Why did He become man? Why did He heal the sick? Why did He die on a Cross? Why did He rise from the dead and ascend to His Father in heaven? The answer is always the same – He did these things for us.

Jesus had no need of baptism, but He approached John in the Jordan for our sake. In being baptised, the Lord made holy the waters of baptism for us. He established the sacrament of baptism for us, that we might become His brothers and sisters; sons and daughters of His Father and of His Church.

Jesus chose to be baptised at the very beginning of His public ministry, and baptism is at the front of His mind at the very end of His time on earth. Before He ascends to His Father, He gave his apostles one last instruction: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…’ This shows us how important this wonderful sacrament is, and it shows us how grateful and how joyful we should feel when we think of our own baptism.

At our baptism, the sign of the Cross was traced on our foreheads and we were clothed in white; these were symbols of what happened in the waters of the font: we died with Christ and we rose with Him. Having died and risen with Him, we were adopted as sons and daughters of God; we became members of His holy Church. There is no such thing as an isolated Christian because through baptism, we are members of a people, the holy people of God.

We were anointed with the holy oil of chrism and set apart for a special mission – to go forth and make more disciples, baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We were given responsibility for the Church as her sons and daughters.

But how do we live up to this responsibility? How can we, weak and broken as we are, spread the good news of the Gospel and make disciples of Christ?

On our own, we cannot; we need help, we need sustenance. First and foremost, we are helped by the grace of the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist and Confession. These are the water, the blood and the Spirit that St John speaks of in the second reading. In these challenging times, it might seem that all hope is lost – if we cannot easily access the sacraments, then our hope of proclaiming the Gospel and claiming new disciples for Christ might seem impossible.

However, there is another source of help and sustenance, which Isaiah speaks of in the first reading when he says, “Listen, listen to me, and you will have good things to eat and rich food to enjoy. Pay attention, come to me; listen, and your soul will live.” We are not only nourished by the sacraments but also by the word of God in the scriptures. The word of God produces fruit in our souls and helps us to complete our special mission in the world. The Lord tells us as much through Isaiah:

“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.”

So, even when our access to the sacraments is severely restricted, we still have hope that the Lord has not abandoned us; He helps us by nourishing us with His word. Certainly, we need the sacraments—that is why the Word became flesh—but when we cannot attend Mass, we must not give up. We are not alone; we are not isolated; we are a holy people, brothers and sisters of Christ and sons and daughters of the Father.

We pray that every day, we will live up to this challenge as Christ’s brothers and sisters, so that we might hear the voice from heaven say of us, “Behold my son; behold my daughter, in whom I am well pleased.”