The baptism of Jesus (the Gospel, Mark 1:1f.) is both an event and an archetype. An archetype is, by one definition, “the original pattern or model from which all things of the same kind are copied or on which they are based” (dictionary.com). The baptism of Jesus is the pattern or model for what is means to be genuinely human.
In Genesis God formed man from the ground and “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). The whole creation was formed by the Spirit of God (Genesis 1:2). However, man was given the Spirit of God in a unique way. Man is the bearer of God’s image in a way that other created beings are not.
Man’s vocation was to live in union with God through the Spirit and rule over God’s creation. Man lost his vocation of dominion through sin. Man died the day man sinned in that he suffered spiritual death. He lost his connection to the very source of life, which meant that he would eventually suffer physical death as well.
In his baptism, Jesus is revealed to be the New Man. The Spirit of God rests upon him so that he lives in perfect union with God, as God’s Son. This reveals that Jesus came to reclaim the human vocation. He came to conquer (or exercise dominion over) our enemies–Satan, sin and death. He came to restore to us the gift of the Spirit and bring us back into the union with God that we lost through sin.
Jesus is God’s natural and eternally begotten Son. We become God’s children by grace as we are recreated in his image. In one sense, all people are created in God’s image. However, the image of God in fallen man is marred and obscured by sin. That image can only be fully restored to us through the gift of the Spirit.
This is the meaning of baptism. In baptism, we pray that God will grant to the child or person “that which by nature he cannot have” (BCP 274). The water is the sign and instrument by which we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit. Through the gift of the Spirit, we are brought back into union with God, we reclaim our vocation of dominion and enjoy again the privilege of being God’s children. We become what human beings were meant to be.
The Bible teaches us that with the gift of the Spirit come gifts of the Spirit. Our epistle (Romans 12:6f.) says that we each have “gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us.” These spiritual gifts are to be understood in the light of our restored humanity. They enable us to be and do what God has called us to be and do.
God gives certain things to all baptized people of faith possess. Chief among these are the virtues of faith hope and love. Who we are and what we do is rooted is our faith in God, in our sure and certain hope of resurrection and life in the world to come and in the motive of love or charity, which causes us to seek God’s glory and serve others.
In Confirmation, the Bishop prays that each person being confirmed will daily increase in “thy manifold gifts of grace: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and ghostly strength, the spirit of knowledge and true godliness” and that God will fill us “with the spirit of thy holy fear” (BCP 297).
Then there are particular gifts that some are given in greater measure. The epistle mentions ministry or service, teaching, exhortation or encouragement and giving. All Christians are called to exercise these gifts from time to time. For example, if we encounter someone who is discouraged, we can’t neglect them by saying we lack the gift of exhortation. Yet, some have these gifts in extraordinary measure. As they serve, teach, exhort and give they, and those they minister to, are edified in unique ways.
Some spiritual gifts come when the Holy Spirit transforms a natural talent into a supernatural gift, while some gifts come when the Holy Spirit calls a person to do new things. Some gifts result from conversion of a sin or error into a gift. The Holy Spirit changed St. Paul’s anger into love, and his persecution of the church into remarkable gifts of service for the church. The gift of giving is sometimes given to those who were formerly covetous and stingy. Sin is a perversion of the good. A converted soul will often manifest gifts that are the opposite of his former sins.
A spiritual gift is a vocation not a hobby. It is not merely, “I have the gift of teaching. Therefore, if asked, I will volunteer to teach a class at church.” It is, rather, “I have the gift of teaching. Therefore, I will be constantly watchful for the opportunities God gives me to teach others–at work, rest and play, as well as in formal church settings.
The use of gifts is not always focused on the visible goals of the tasks at hand. A worker may be stuck doing work that does not pertain to any particular spiritual gift. Yet, spiritual gifts can still be exercised in the way the work is done and the way people are treated in the doing of the work. The Holy Spirit leads us to aim higher than merely climbing a corporate ladder or getting more for ourselves at the expense of others. The Holy Spirit challenges us to love and serve in places where people are doing other things. Wresting with this challenge is the proper focus of our faith.
God has given us the Spirit to prepare us for the world that is to come, the new heavens and the new earth that God is preparing for his new people. When our hope is fulfilled, everyone will find their true place, everyone’s gifts will be fully utilized and everyone will love fully and be fully loved. Until then, we are called to shine as lights in the midst of the darkness of this world.
This is why we shouldn’t get too caught up in the scorecard of the world, where all results are temporary. Rather, we ought to remember our baptisms and the gift of the Spirit. We ought to ask what I, a child of God and bearer of the Spirit, am called to be and do given the unique challenges I face. And we ought to thank God for the gifts he has given to others that help and encourage us in the way. For, in Christ, we also have become beloved children, with whom God is well-pleased.