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He wanted to rise with us from the Abyss

The gospel opens with a significant finding, the people were in expectant. It is easy to imagine what they are waiting for: the slaves expected freedom, the poor a new condition of life, the exploited labourer hoped for justice, the sick, healing, the humiliated and raped woman, recovery of dignity.

All aspired a new world; they hoped that among people, abuse, distortion and mistreatment would disappear, and rapport with peace be installed.

When someone lives in difficult situations and ardently craves for something to change, they rely on anyone who inspires some hope. 

However, it is easy to be fooled in identifying the liberator. The people of Israel were—as Jesus would one day say—a flock without a shepherd (Mark 6:34) expecting from the Lord a guide and thinking the baptist to be the Messiah.

John corrects them: saying not me, but one stronger than I is about to come. He will baptise you with “the Holy Spirit and fire.” He comes with a winnowing fan to clear his threshing floor and gather the grin into his barn. But the chaff he will burn with “fire that never goes out” (Luke 3:17).

Earlier he said that the ax is already laid to the root of the trees (Luke 3:9). The judgment of God is imminent and it will be severe.

The baptist’s words reflect the mentality of a people that the spiritual leaders have educated in the fear of God. Like everyone else, he too believed that injustice and sin had reached the ridge and that God’s solving intervention against the wicked was imminent.

 He was right: with the coming of Christ there would be no escape for evil. 

But on how God would cleanse the world of sin, the kind of fire that he would use… perhaps the baptist was mistaken. 

We do not know exactly what he had in mind. We know rather well how Jesus acted: he did not attack sinners, instead sat down to dinner with them; he did not stray from the lepers, instead he touched them; he did not condemn the adulteress, but defended her against those who judged and despised her; he did not drive the sinful woman away, but let her caress and kiss him.

Luke does not describe the baptism of Jesus, but speaks of it as a fact that has already taken place (v.21). 

Clearly, for him the centre of the story is not the baptism itself, but what happens immediately after: the opening of the heavens, the descent of the Spirit and, above all, the voice from heaven.

Another detail that appears only in Luke is the call to prayer. Jesus receives the Spirit while praying. 

The insistence on prayer is one of the characteristics of Luke. It is the first time that he presents Jesus in dialogue with the Father, later he will do it a dozen times more.

Jesus does not pray to give us a good example. He needs, like us, to find out what is the will of the Father; he needs to receive his light and strength to carry out at all times what is pleasing to him.

He needs to pray now that he is in the stage in his mission; he will pray before choosing the apostles (Luke 6:12), before his passion (Luke 22:41) and pray, above all,
on the cross (Luke 23:34,46) at the time of the most difficult test. To remain faithful to the Father, he needed to pray.

Father Fernando Armellini CMF
Claretian Publications