Sunday Reading

Baptism of Christ. Jesus is baptized in the Jo...
Baptism of Christ. Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River by John. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Matthew 3: 1 – 12
1     In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea,
2     “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
3     For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
4     Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.
5     Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan,
6     and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7     But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sad’ducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
8     Bear fruit that befits repentance,
9     and do not presume to say to yourselves, `We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
10     Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11     “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
12     His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”


For me the most striking thing here is:

11     “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

I don’t think we have to take this eschatologically. Many do, of course. But what interests me is the notion that we can take it spiritually. I’ve been asked “what do you mean when you say ‘the Holy Spirit’?” And others have implied that all forms of spirituality are the same.

From my personal experience, the Holy Spirit is like a kind of spiritual “water” that comes into a person and makes them feel like they are being cleansed, uplifted, sanctified, and guided. Those are just a few words I could use to try to describe it phenomenologically. I should emphasize that it’s a holy feeling. Unlike other kinds of spirituality I’ve encountered, the Holy Spirit is not spacy, and it doesn’t make me feel like a big self-important “teacher.” I’ve been through that kind of spirituality and have come to reject it. Why? Well, because I found something better for me.

The Holy Spirit uplifts but does not eclipse one’s essential individuality. I’ve discussed this point with some very nice folks adhering to non-Christian paths. And although I respect their needs and choices, we usually come to a polite disagreement over the individuality issue. For me, individuality is essential. But some Buddhists, for instance, just want to get past any “illusions,” so they believe, about individuality.

At any rate, we can disagree and still be friends. We can even help each other in our respective spiritual formations. And that, to me, is one of the great mysteries I think about, almost on a daily basis.

As for the “fire” in the highlighted passage, we could take this as the purification that any sincere Christian encounters on his or her road to salvation. Being purified isn’t always fun. In fact, it’s usually difficult. But I believe it’s a necessary challenge we have to endure to learn how we’ve been going wrong.

But it’s not all doom in gloom. Quite the contrary. The Holy Spirit and the purifying fire are two essential elements in the quest for everlasting heaven. And that, I believe, is something so great that we can hardly imagine it!




  1. Good Sunday Message Mike!

    You and I talked about the nature of the Holy Spirit before. I told you that my Baptist turned Catholic friend called the Holy Spirit “the breath of God.” That made me wonder if the Holy Spirit could be similar to what other religions and philosophies refer to as the “vital essence” or the “life force”. I realize that’s a controversial comparison for some people. I guess that’s why you created Earthpages. 🙂 In any case, it sounds like you are saying that the Holy Spirit is something a person feels and experiences.

    I’ve found that relationships are extremely important to our personal growth and development. Our most valuable learning experiences take place in our personal relationships. That’s why I believe our relationships are far more important than our beliefs. I caution people not to reject others because their ideas are different from our own. We don’t need to adopt other people’s beliefs, but I wouldn’t automatically reject a person because they think differently. If we only associate with people whose beliefs match our own, we limit our experiences and in turn our personal growth.

    I can see that your work with Earthpages lends itself to people’s spiritual growth by allowing for (what I see as) a healthy exchange of ideas.


    ~ David


  2. Thanks for your comment David… and for helping to keep moving forward. What you said about relationships got me thinking. Two points came to mind.

    1) Some people are so toxic that we have to distance ourselves from them, for a while anyhow, until just being in their presence is tolerable.

    2) Some people could progress spiritually, all alone. I’m thinking of hermits. If they are properly equipped, I think it’s possible they could grow closer to God without seeing anyone else. But these types of people are pretty rare!

    Most of us need some kind of relating. The good and the bad, it can all help us grow. Agreed!

    As for the Holy Spirit as “breath” or “wind,” that doesn’t speak to me as much as the “water” metaphor. But it certainly is Biblical. A priest gave me permission to post one of his homilies on the topic. You might want to scroll down to “Symbols of the Holy Spirit.” 🙂


  3. I know what you mean Mike. I think that’s true. I do believe there are people who are toxic. I have had to remove a few toxic people from my life in the past. I remember one committed suicide (not because of anything I did). That goes back to soul saving . . . don’t become overly involved in other people’s messes. Luckily I haven’t had anyone like that come into my life in many years. I’ve been blessed with good relationships.

    I agree with you about spiritual seclusion. Solitude is important. We need a certain amount of alone time to clear our heads. I’m not so sure that person needs to be a hermit though. That’s a little extreme for me. For most us, I think relationships are important part of our life experience.


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