55. NEW BIRTH. From the water and the wind

From the water and the wind

1. In the social and religious frame in which Jesus lives it is useless to say : “We have Abraham as father”. In our baptized society, but insufficiently evangelized, it is helpless to say: “we are all life Catholics”. It is necessary to come to live the meaning of the baptism. It is necessary to be born again (Jn 3=, says Jesus to Nicodemo. In the first times catechesis, the baptism means a radical change, a step from the thirst to the water of life (Jn 4), from blindness to life (Jn 11). “To be baptized is not to take  bath, the Eucharist is not to fill up the body. The baptized is already washed in a new world, and it is in a new world where the community eats” (NCA)

2. Nicodemo, the Jewish magistrate, occupies an important position in the government. He goes by night where Jesus goes and he says to him: “Rabbi, we know that you have come from God like master because nobody can make the signals that you make if God is not with him”. The magistrate appreciate the signals, but he belongs to a different world, from where what Jesus says is not understood: “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again from above.” A radical change is required, a new birth. The magistrate asks: “How can there be rebirth for a grown man?” Jesus replied, “Truly, I say to you: No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” It is necessary to be born from he water, that symbolizes the conversion announced by John (Jn 1, 31) and it is necessary to be born from the wind, to be born from the spirit: “The wind blows where it pleases and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It is like that with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (3, 3 – 8)

3. Nicodemo is a magistrate in Israel, but he does not understand. He is the man of the law. Tied up to a code that excludes any novelty, he locks himself to God´s action. Like a Pharisee, he thinks that God has finished  his work, that the man is in his definitive state, that there is no threshold to cross. Jesus says another thing: the creation has not finished, God continues working (Jn 5, 17), the man must be born again. The dialogue reflects a tension between the synagogue and the community of disciples: “We talk about we know and we give our testimony about we have seen, but you do not accept our testimony”

4. In the Bible spirit means God´s breath (Gn 2, 7), God´s reality (Jn 4, 24), his gifts (Is 11, 2), the gift of the spirit: “It will happen in the last days, says God: I shall spill may spirit over all flesh” (Jl 3, 1). God´s spirit appears in many ways in Jesus´ life: in his conception (Lk 1, 35), in his baptism (3, 21 -22), in the dessert (4, 1)       in his mission (4, 14 – 22), in his prayer (10, 21), in the last supper (Jn 14, 16 – 17), in his  resurrection (20. 22), in the first Christian community (Acts 2). In the last supper, Jesus announces the gift of the spirit: “I will ask the Father and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever, that Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him for he is with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans, I am coming to you. A little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me because I live and you will also live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father and you in me, and I in you.” (Jn 14,  16 – 20)

5. John´s baptism prepares the way to the one who will baptize with water and with spirit (Jn 3, 5), with holy spirit and fire: “He has the winnowing fan in his hand and he will clear out his threshing floor. He will gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn in everlasting fire.” (Mt 3, 11-12). John addresses to everybody: sinners, pagans, Pharisees, Sadducees (Mt 3, 7-10; Lk 3, 13-14), He does not demand special ascetic practices. He denounces the false illusion of having Abraham as father without practicing the justice (Mt 3, 8). He invites to share: ““If you have two coats, give one to the person who has none; and if you have food, do the same.” (Lk 3, 10-14). John announces a “conversion baptism for the forgiveness of the sins” (Mk 1, 4). He delivers testimony of Christ, that means Anointed: “I myself did not know him but God who sent me to baptize told me: ‘You will see the Spirit coming down and resting on the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’  34 Yes, I have seen! and I declare that this is the Chosen One of God.” (Jn 1, 33-34)

6. In the moment in which John is arrested, Jesus begins to predicate in Galilee, at the other side of the Jordan,
Galilee of the gentiles: “Change your ways: the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Mt 4, 17; see Is 52, 7).Jesus announces God´s action and calls to conversion. Well then, his message falls in a world where the opposite experience reigns. The world does without God and it does not believe possible the conversion. The Gospel bursts in a chained, obscured, needed of liberation land: “The people who was in darkness saw a large light” (Mt 4, 16),  “the spirit of the Lord is over me, because he has anointed me to announce the good news to the poor, he has sent me to proclaim the freedom of the captives and the sight to those blind, to give freedom to those  oppressed” (Lk 4, 18). The Gospel brings the hoped signals: “The blind see, the lame walk, the leprous are let clean, the deaf hear, the death resurrect, the good news is announced to the poor” (7, 22)

7. With his call to conversion, Jesus places us before the living God. Not only you will not have other gods (Dt 5, 7), but above all you will look for the kingdom of God and his justice (Mt 6, 33). You will not only will not take the name of God in vain (Dt 5, 11), but you will not swear in any way (Mt 5, 33-34). You will not only sanctify the Saturday (Dt 5, 12 – 15), but the Saturday was made for the man (Mk 2, 27) and you will be fed with the bread of life (Jn 6, 35 – 51). You not only will honour your father and your mother (Dt 5, 16), but those who listen the Word of God will be your will be your family (Mk 3, 31 -35). You will not only will not kill (5, 17) but you will love your enemy (Mt 5, 43 – 46). You not only will not commit adultery (Dt 5, 18), but you will be faithful with all your heart (Mt 5, 27 – 30). You not only will not steal (Dt 5, 19), but you will share your properties (Lk 19, 8 – 10). You not only will not give false testimony against your neighbour (Dt 5, 20), but you will excuse and forgive (Mt 18, 21 – 22). The whole Law and the Prophets are founded on the love to God and the love to the neighbour.” (Mt 22, 40)

8. Jesus´ baptism, model of any baptism, takes place in the spirit of God. Baptized by John in the Jordan, the heavens open, the spirit descends, a word is listened saying: ““This is my Son, the Beloved; he is my Chosen One.” (Mt 3, 16 – 17). The spirit of God comes over Jesus and rests on him (Is 11, 2; Mt 3, 16). With the fondness of a dove over the nest where its baby birds are. Like the spirit of God hovered over the waters (Gn 1, 2), now the spirit of God creates a new man and a new world. In some way, for Jesus is a new birth. Pslam 2 is accomplished: “You are my son, this day I have begotten you.”

9. The first song of the servant is also accomplished (Is 42): “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight.” God himself introduces his servant. The servant has the spirit of God and a mission to accomplish: “I have put my spirit upon him, and he will bring justice to the nations. He does not shout or raise his voice proclamations are not heard in the streets. A broken reed he will not crush, nor will he snuff out the light of the wavering wick. He will make justice appear in truth. He will not waver or be broken until he has established justice on earth; the islands are waiting for his law”. The mission of the servant has no frontiers, he publishes God´s will, he makes justice. He neither imposes himself on force nor pushes around, but he neither remains silent nor faints. The servant is God´s work, he answers his call, he accomplishes a fate received from God: “I, Yahweh, have called you for the sake of justice; I will hold your hand to make you firm; I will make you as a covenant to the people, and as a light to the nations, to open eyes that do not see, to free captives from prison, to bring out to light those who sit in darkness.” In the Acts of the Apostles it is said that “in this city Herod and Pontius Pilate conspired … against your saint servant Jesus” (Acts 4, 27)

10. The second song of the servant (Is 49) is similar: “Listen to me, O islands, pay attention, peoples from distant lands. Yahweh called me from my mother’s womb; he pronounced my name before I was born. He made my mouth like a sharpened sword. He hid me in the shadow of his hand. He made me into a polished arrow set apart in his quiver.” But it is neither lost time nor the work is useless. The failure of the servant is only apparent. The mission stays and it reaches the boundaries of the earth: “It is not enough that you be my servant, to restore the tribes of Jacob, to bring back the remnant of Israel. I will make you the light of the nations, that my salvation will reach to the ends of the earth.”. It is not only to gather Jacob’s tribes, to surpass schisms and exiles (now, the division of the Churches). No, what prepares in the scene of history is a universal  event, visible for all nations.

11. The gift of the spirit is a reality that flows in abundance from Christ´s Pasch. Peter proclaims it on Pentecost day: “Jesus of Nazareth. God accredited him and through him did powerful deeds and wonders and signs… This Messiah is Jesus and we are all witnesses that God raised him to life. He has been exalted at God’s right side and the Father has entrusted the Holy Spirit to him; this Spirit he has just poured upon us as you now see and hear.” (Acts 2, 22 – 33). Jesus´ signals are repeated in the Church: the lame walk (Acts 3, 1 – 10), the dead resurrect (9, 40; 20,10), radical changes take place (10,. 44 – 48), God´s word is announced with courage (4, 13), properties are shared (2, 44; 4, 32), menaces and persecutions are confronted with peace and joy (5, 41), the spirit produces his fruits (1 Co 12, 8 – 10), it is proclaimed that Jesus is the Lord (1 Co 12, 5). Psalm 110 is accomplished: “Said the Lord to my Lord: Sit down at my right until I place your enemies like footstool of your feet”

12. The Acts of the Apostles show the central place that the baptism occupies in the first Christian community. Those who embrace the Gospel, receive the baptism. Peter’s words reach their heart and they ask: “What should we do? Peter answers them: “Each of you must repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins may be forgiven. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2, 38). The first communities baptize “in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2, 38), “in Christ” (Gal 3, 27; Rm 6, 3), “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19, 5) or also in “holy spirit” (19, 3)

13. Paul knows it by experience. That who meet Christ is as if he is born again, a “new man” (2 Co 5, 17). The depth of this relationship is expressed in this manner: “Do I live? It is no longer me, Christ lives in me.” (Ga 2, 20). The acknowledgment of Christ takes Paul out of himself, it knocks down his old centres of interest, it reverses his hierarchy of values, it changes the basement of his world. “But once I found Christ, all those things that I might have considered as profit, I reckoned as loss. Even more, everything seems to me as nothing compared with the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord. For his sake I have let everything fall away and I now consider all as garbage, if instead I may gain Christ. May I be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the Law, but with the righteousness that God gives to those who believe.” (Phil 3, 7 – 9)

14. Such as it reaches us, the celebration of baptism gives an accumulation of rites, gathered in the tradition. If we go to the sources, we find a simplification. Everything is simpler. Let us see the passage of the eunuch Ethiopian, treasure minister, who comes back from Jerusalem, from a pilgrimage, sitting in his cart, reading a passage of prophet Isaiah, the third song of the servant (Acts 8, 27 – 28). The context is this: “Those who were scattered went about preaching the word” (8, 4). Persecution falls specially upon the greek sector of the community of Jerusalem, who made (like Jesus) the denunciation of the temple

15. The angel of the Lord, God´s messenger, told Philip: Get up and go to the south, by the way that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. He got up and left. The spirit told Philip: Get close and place yourself near that cart. Philip run up to it and he hears the reading of prophet Isaiah. He says the Ethiopian: Do you understand what you are reading? The Ethiopian answers: How can I understand it if nobody serves me like a guide?. The passage was this:  “Like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearer he did not open his mouth. He was taken away to detention and judgment – what an unthinkable fate! He was cut off from the land of the living” (Is 53, 7 – 8).

16. The Ethiopian asks Philip: From whom does the prophet say this? From himself or from another one ? (Acts 8, 34). Then Philip, from this text of the Scriptures, announces him Jesus´ good news, crucified exactly in that place from where the pilgrim comes, a slaughterhouse. Continuing the way, they arrived to a place where there was water. The Ethiopian tells him: There is water here, what does it prevent being baptized? And he commanded to stop the cart. They went down together to the water, Philip and the eunuch and he baptized him. And, as coming out of the water, the Lord´s  spirit took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him anymore, continuing joyfully his way.

17. The Christian baptism is a bath in the spirit: “John baptized with water, you will be baptized in holy spirit” (Acts 1, 5). The spirit is a God´s gift, communication that God gives to himself. All what happens from God, happens in the spirit. The spirit is a God´s gift given to anyone who is baptized. (Acts 2, 38; Rm 5, 5), it is a sign of the presence of Christ in the believer. Jesus said it: “Let anyone who is thirsty, come to me; and let the one who believes in me drink, for the Scripture says: Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” Jesus was referring to the Spirit which those who believe in him were to receive; the Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet entered into his Glory”. (Jn 7, 37 – 39). The spirit is the flow that Jesus spills over those who believe in Him. “One Lord, one faith, one baptism. One God, the Father of all, who is above all and works through all and is in all.” (Eph 4, 5 – 6; see 1 Co 6, 11)

18. The Simbol of faith formulate is as follows: “I believe in holy spirit”. In the original greek text it appears with lower case letter and without article. Due to the gift of the spirit the resurrected God continues being present among us, like the father: “If anyone loves me, says Jesus, he will keep my word, and my father shall love him, and we shall come to him and we shall make home in him” (Jn 14, 23)

19. The baptism means purification (1 Co 6, 11; Eph 5, 25 – 26), bath (Jn 9, 7), new birth (Jn 3, 3 – 5; Gal 4, 29), regeneration (Tt 3, 5 – 8), illumination (Eph 5, 8 – 14). Saint Peter says: “Like newborn children, seek eagerly for the pure milk of the Word that will help you grow and reach salvation.” (1 P 2, 2). The baptism means a growth and, also, an exemplary behaviour (2, 12), a new life (Rm 6, 4). In the baptism the original aspiration of the sinner man: being like God, managing without God (Gn 3, 5) becomes nullified.

20. During the first centuries, “the baptism of adults in the most common practice”, “the catechumenate (preparation for the baptism) occupies then an important place” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1247). Initiation to the faith and the Christian life, the catechumenate prepares to receive God´s gift in the baptism. In the catechumenal tradition, the deliveries of the Symbol of the faith and of the Our Father are important elements in the celebration of the baptism. The Church deliveries to those who receive the baptism the compendium of its faith and prayer. The baptism is the efficient sign of the received faith and the new life that it carries with it: “by means of Christ we have access to the father in just the same spirit” (Eph 2, 18). Or what is the same, we place our confidence in God, because we are sons. The proof of it is that “God has sent to our hearts the spirit of his son who claims abba, father” (Ga 4, 6)

21. Under the present circumstances the maturation of the baptized in the faith requires a catechesis of catechumenal inspiration. And in this sense was proposed by Paul VI: “Without need to neglect in any way the children instruction, we are observing that present conditions made more urgent day after day the catechetical teaching under the modality of a catechumenate for a large number of youngsters and adults who, touched by the grace, they progressively discover Christ´s figure and they feel the need to devote themselves to him” (EN 44) In fact, many baptized are “true catechumenate” (John Paul II, CT 44)

22. The children are not baptized in a personal faith, but in the faith of the Christian community. Afterwards, little by little they must progress in the personalization of their faith, if they really desire that the baptism mean something in their own life. Their freedom, of course, must be respected: Allow the children to come to me, do not prevent them” (Mt 19, 14), Jesus said. In certain media, it would be necessary to add: Don’t impose it to them. The oldest testimonies of the practice of the baptism of children are from the third century, The baptism of children shouldn’t be a routine event. This is why arises the question: which guaranties are there that a child will be educated in the faith?

23. And the children who die without being baptized? In the past what Jesus said to the adult Nicodemus was (in a bad way) applied to them: “That who is not born of water and spirit may not go into the kingdom of God” Today that application is unsustainable; “God wants all men to be saved” (1 Tm 2, 4), the children do not have personal sins, they are the object of a divine predilection.(Mt 18, 10) they also are “children of God, being children of the resurrection” (Lk 20, 36)

* Dialogue: Do we live what is the meaning of the baptism?

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