Why does Jesus want to be baptized?


Today’s feast may, legitimately, cause confusion to some of us. Rightly, we understand that baptism entails a cleansing and erasing of the original sin (CCC 405). Obviously, as God, Jesus has no need for such a ritual ablution or a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, just as John preached (rf Lk 3:3). What prompted Jesus, then, to go to John the Baptist to be baptized, to be part of “all the people” and to “blend into the grey mass of sinners waiting on the banks of the Jordan”? (Lk 3:21, Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth from the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration P.16).

No doubt, Jesus’ baptism is a solemn inauguration of His public ministry but for Luke, it is more of a theophany, a revelation of who Jesus is. The first revelation is “heaven was opened” (Lk 3:21). If heaven is now opened, it implies it was closed before. Why? It is because of the sin of our first parents, that the way to the Tree of Life was blocked (rf Gen 3:24). Jesus came to reconnect the way, to be the mediator between God and humankind so that “the grace of God has appeared, saving all” (rf Second Reading Ti 2:11). The second revelation is the descending of the Holy Spirit on Jesus. It is His anointing and investiture as the divine Messiah. He can truly embody the oracle of the prophet Isaiah for which He will later proclaim in the synagogue of Nazareth, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor” (Lk 4:18). Jesus is now set to proclaim the good news of salvation! The third revelation is the voice from heaven, the voice of God, the voice from a father to his son. At the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel proclaims that the child whom Mary will conceive in her womb will be holy, the Son of God (rf Lk 1:35). Here, we have God Himself solidly confirming the fact by addressing this to Jesus, not only as the beloved Son, but also in whom the Father is well pleased (rf Lk 3:22).

The baptism of Jesus reminds us of our baptism. What have been revealed to us at His baptism also happened to us at our own baptism. By this rite, apart from the remittance of our sins, we participate in the love of the Trinity. Heaven is opened to welcome us and the Holy Spirit descends to clothe us with the three baptismal roles (priest, prophet and king). Each one of us is called and becomes a “son of God”, each one of us is the “beloved son of God”. Our baptism is “an entrance into [the Lord’s] own baptism” (rf. Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth from the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, P.23).

What prompted Jesus to be baptized? To put it plainly, He wills it. He wills to “[step] into the place of sinners”, to immerse Himself in the same water with them; to infuse His own holiness into them and to let life start over again anew ( rf Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth from the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, P. 18). Jesus refers His baptism to His sacrificial death on the cross (rf Mk 10:38, Lk 12:50). His baptism is “an acceptance of death for the sins of humanity”. “He loaded the burden of all mankind’s guilt upon His shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan” (rf Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth from the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration P.18). We, too, are buried with Him in baptism the filth of our past but “are raised with Him through faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Col 2:12). The “heavenly voice proclaimed an anticipation of the Resurrection,” a rebirth through water, which is the symbol of life (rf Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth from the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration P.18).

When St John Paul II promulgated “The Mysteries of Light” of the Holy Rosary in 2002, the Lord’s baptism has become not just an annual feast but a part of our Thursday contemplation of the life of Jesus, our Savior. May our prayer of the luminous mystery keep us faithful to our baptismal call as the children of God, just as Jesus was faithful to His mission which started at His baptism at the Jordan River.

Posted: January 9, 2022

May Tam

 
May Tam, Bachelor of Social Science (University of Hong Kong), Master of Theological Studies (University of Toronto)


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