I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire (Mt 3:11).
John is speaking here of the baptism of repentance that he is offering. The people are coming to him, not to the Temple, the formal place of worship, but to the wilderness. John represents an answer to the hunger of the people. He is the embodiment of the prophet who has returned. He speaks for God and the people are willing to listen and follow him because of his authenticity.
John the Baptist is clear that he is not the long-awaited Messiah, he is just the precursor. He is preparing the way of the Lord. He is preparing the hearts and minds of the people to turn away from their sin and self-centered ways so that they can recognize him when he comes.
The baptism of Jesus was and is different than John’s. It is a baptism not just of repentance, but also of the Holy Spirit and fire. The baptism of Jesus will be wholly transformative. Fire consumes and transforms that which it touches and the Holy Spirit is often symbolized by fire. But the transformative fire of the Holy Spirit is love.
Love is an expanding, unitive force. It is a direct counter to the self-focused, curving in upon oneself and divisiveness of the fallen nature of our humanity. Love is an act of the will and draws us out to be engaged with the betterment of others. When we experience the love of God we are changed and transformed. This is not a one time be all encounter, but one that is to be experienced and shared time and time again. The more we share the love of God the more we receive.
John the Baptist is reminding those coming to him and us who read the Gospel of Matthew today that none of us are worthy of God’s love. We do not deserve it nor can we grasp it for ourselves. We must be willing to receive the Holy Spirit on his terms, not ours. We are simply to say yes to the invitation to receive the love of God, allow him to expand us beyond our limitations, and share what we have received with others.
Photo: Taking advantage of some cooler Florida weather and enjoying some quiet time by the fire three nights ago.