Baptism is the sacrament that makes us adopted children of God the Father. But the relationship of life and love with Him must be nurtured every day.
This is easily explained: just consider how hard it is for us to resist temptations of all kinds. Original sin has left us weak and easily deceived. Thus, negatively, Baptism is an ongoing process of resisting our evil inclinations; and, positively, of growing in the life and love of God and of being gifted with comforting insights and visions of God’s glory and of our glory in Him.
But, why celebrate the Baptism of the Lord Jesus? Jesus did not need any baptism: he is forever sinless. Jesus did not need to have the Spirit hover over him as a dove. As God he possesses the Spirit from all ages. Jesus did not have to please the Father, because, as Son, he is forever pleasing the Father in total obedience.
These three concise statements give us an indication that, today, there will be new insights, new epiphanies about Baptism.
Why does Jesus line up to be baptized, much to John’s surprise, much to our surprise? Matthew offers us two explanations that lift us up to a new level of reality: what does not make sense at our human level is decreed by God from above: This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. The Baptism of Jesus makes sense because the Father has so decreed.
Secondly; Jesus himself offers the explanation to John: Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. The letter to the Hebrews gives us the fuller meaning of this obscure sentence. He who consecrates and those who are consecrated have one and the same Father. Therefore Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers/sisters. (Heb. 2:11-12)
He is the one who consecrates; we, his brothers and sisters are those consecrated by his Spirit. He, the righteous, fulfills righteousness for us all through his blood on the cross.
But it is not simple solidarity.
That would have been great and praiseworthy by itself. No, Jesus lines up to be baptized by John because we are all one in him; we are integral parts of him. This is what the Incarnation showed us at Christmas time. The Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us.
It is not temporary, not provisional, but final. God and all of us share the same divine nature forever, because Jesus was made flesh. This is the ultimate insight, the ultimate epiphany of our God: out of love God got His hands dirty when he formed us from the clay of the soil and breathed His Spirit in us.
In a divinely-decreed exchange, from the first moment He was taking shape in the womb of Mary, in Jesus, God was given by her blood all He needed one day to see, to hear, to touch our humanness in all its miseries. And after his glorification, God carries forever the nail marks, the gash on his chest, the furrows of the flogging, as a perennial reminder of our pain.
Jesus lines up to be baptized by John because, he who knew no sin, became sin to free us from sin. For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Out of love he became the only thing that God hates, so that he may feel upon himself all the devastation of sin’s insanity, all the numbness of our countless defeats, all the harshness of our daily struggles. What happens along the banks of the Jordan River is, therefore, also our baptism, our ongoing battle to defeat sin so as, one day, to wear on our flesh the glory of our Lord. Jesus is we; he is anyone of us, and with each of us, he walks through the grinding process of sin and death and then to victory and the resurrection.
This complete share in our condition opens before our eyes the way to defeat sin. We become aware of the fact that immorality and any other evil must first be faced and fought inside one’s heart. We too ought to own up to sin inside ourselves. It is fruitless to be displeased with others, to blame others, to judge, to condemn.
Today, on the feast of Jesus’ Baptism, instead of decrying with a degree of self-indignation and self-righteousness the mess in which this world is in, we should implore: “Lord, walk me out of the mess of my heart and toward your light.”
The old film, Molokai, illustrates the significance of Jesus’ Baptism. Fr. Damien had mustered enough courage to settle on the hellish island of Molokai where lepers were forced to live the rest of their days away, cut off from society. That was solidarity, like Jesus’ solidarity in his Incarnation. It was so for several years. But then, one Sunday morning, Fr. Damien climbs the pulpit and he glows with a supernatural serenity as he announces: “This morning I found out that I have contracted leprosy. Now I am truly one of you.”
What is the secret or the worry or the shame or the burden that keeps us from genuine serenity and from bearing the fruits we would like to bear? In a most reassuring way Jesus whispers this to us: “Trust me. I know about it. Everything will be alright. I am in your heart to fulfill all righteousness.
The voice of the Father you hear is telling you that you are His beloved son, His beloved daughter. He is well pleased with you because you are trying your best to be free, to be responsible, reliable, trustworthy, faithful, forgiving, filled with hope and courage. The flesh I have is real just like yours; I feel what you feel; I hope what you hope; I dream what you dream, I want to enjoy life as much as you do. I will never be ashamed to call you my brother, my sister. I want to share in all your joys and sorrows; I want to chat with you as often as you feel like. I want you to live every waking moment close to me until your mind will be at peace and your heart will brim over with confidence and hope.