The third chapter of Matthew’s Gospel focuses on John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus. There is a clear connection between baptism and mission. We come to the waters of baptism and are transformed, born again as new creations. The old sinful self is replaced by the abiding presence of God. There is a fundamental and indelible change in our very nature and existence, something that marks us for all eternity as belonging to God.
With this new identity comes a new purpose and meaning for our lives, for we are baptized not just to save us, but that we may go forth and bring the Good News of salvation to others. It is no coincidence that Jesus’ public ministry begins after his baptism. He sets the example and standard for us to follow. As the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at his baptism, we received that same Spirit at our baptism.
Baptism grafts us into the life and ministry of Jesus, into his death and resurrection, and empowers us to continue his mission on earth. Christianity is not a spectator sport. Each and every person, by virtue of their baptism, is called to get in the game and play. Certainly there are different roles and responsibilities, but none of us a called to just sit on the sidelines and watch others do the stuff. It takes discernment and practice to find our place in the mission field, but rest assured there is a place waiting for each of us. For some it may be a vocation to priesthood or religious life, for others street evangelism, still others works of mercy among the poor and needy, and still others a life of prayer and sacrifice.
John the Baptist was very critical of the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 3. He was angered by the entitled attitude of self-righteousness displayed by many of them. Some wanted to rest on their heritage and position. Some were adept at keeping others from engaging and participating in the work of the Kingdom. The message of the Baptist, and of baptism, is to turn away from those ways of thinking and living, and to understand that all of us are called to find our place and live out a missional lifestyle that infectiously invites others to believe the Good News that God’s Kingdom has come.