“I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:14)

by Shiu Lan
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

Isaiah 42:1-4,6-7

Acts 10:34-38

Matthew 3:13-17

This Sunday we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. This reminds me of my own Baptism many years ago when I was a teenager and I seemed to understand quite well then what Baptism meant to me. I eagerly looked forward to receiving the Sacrament that takes away my sins and cleanses my dull soul to a spotless sparkling white. The forgiveness one receives at Baptism is full and complete including original sin, personal sins as well as penalties for these (CCC 978).

Jesus is sinless, why would He want to be baptized by John the Baptist? This may be in John’s mind, too, who proclaims a baptism of water for the forgiveness of sins, for “a change of heart” and the one who is to come after him is more powerful and will baptize them in the “Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11). So when Jesus comes to the Jordan to be baptized, John said to Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:13). Jesus answers that the Baptism is fitting to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Indeed, in the first reading, we hear Isaiah’s prophecy that the Lord has called Jesus “in righteousness”, given him as “a light to the nations … to bring out … those who sit in darkness” (Is 42:6-7). Through His Baptism, Jesus identifies with the sinners. It is a “manifestation of his self-emptying” (CCC 1224), taking on “the nature of a servant, made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:7).

In this Sunday’s Gospel reading, we also hear that after Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan, his divinity as the Beloved Son in the Triune God is revealed, “… suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:16-17).

The grace of Baptism delivers us from sin but does not deliver us from inclination to sin. The frailties in character that may lead us to evil are "left for us to wrestle with” (CCC 1264). When the risen Christ instructs the Apostles to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20), He is also giving us the key to win the wrestle with our own weakness in character, temptation and inclination to sin, that is, to live out what he teaches us every day in our lives.