by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted be permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. John tried to prevent him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me/" Jesus said to him in reply, "Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he allowed him. After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened for him, and he saw the spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."
During the Christmas season, the church wisely chooses to celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. It is an event that demands a little unpacking.
On the one hand, Jesus’ baptism is puzzling. After all, he was sinless and John’s baptism was for the repentance of sin. When Jesus shows up at the River Jordan, John’s initial response is reasonable: “John tried to prevent him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you … ’”
On the other hand, Jesus’ choice to submit to John’s baptism is enlightening. While he did not need this baptism in the same way that every one of us needs it, his choice to present himself to his cousin demonstrates that Our Lord truly took on our human nature when he was born of Mary. In Nazareth, Jesus did not simply appear in human form as God did in numerous ways in the Old Testament when, for instance, he wrestled with Jacob or sat at a meal with Abraham.
In the womb of Mary, Jesus fully embraced our human condition. His 33-year journey on this earth would include the countless blessings of human life, including family, friends, music, the joy of working with your hands and the beauty of creation.
However, Our Lord also took on the more difficult elements of our human nature including all sorts of physical suffering such as hunger from fasting, pain at hitting his finger with a hammer and agony at being scourged. He also knew a wide range of emotional suffering, including the death of his friend Lazarus, the murder of his cousin John and the hatred of religious leaders who desperately sought ways to put him to death. Of course, there was the moral suffering that stands out; Jesus took upon his shoulders the weight of every human sin and brought them with him to the cross.
Consequently, at his baptism, Jesus revealed that he truly became man and embraced our human condition in every way but sin.
The Holy Trinity was also revealed in a simple and powerful way at this event, which took place at the start of Jesus’ public ministry. The Spirit of God descended upon him like a dove and the voice of the Father came from the heavens, proclaiming, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” This warm proclamation speaks volumes about the intimacy that exists for all eternity between God the Father and his only-begotten Son. In the end, this manifestation of the presence of the Holy Trinity reveals that Jesus’ mission to redeem the world is not solely a work of the Son, but rather a labor of the Holy Trinity.
What might be our response to Jesus’ baptism? I suggest three: marvel, rejoice and go swimming. Marvel at the mystery: God chose to embrace all that is good and all that is ugly about our human condition (without even once giving in to sin). Rejoice in the love and generosity of God who was willing to stoop down, be born of a virgin and truly pitch his tent among us. Finally, dive in to the River Jordan. Take repentance seriously. Please the Lord with your humility and genuine contrition. Make a good confession and experience the warmth of Jesus’ healing, merciful love come down upon you like a warm blanket on a frigid day.