I’d like to tackle a couple of questions with you.
The first is relatively straightforward:
why was Jesus himself baptized?
Recall that John was baptizing people
as an expression of sorrow for sins.
So when you came and lined up along the banks of the Jordan River,
it was like lining up for confession.
You were there to tell God you were sorry for your sins.
So why was Jesus there?
The answer is, Jesus was there for the same reason Jesus is here –
for the same reason God became human.
The whole point of the Incarnation, that is, of God becoming human,
is that God was coming to be with us, to stand with us.
So it was entirely appropriate
that Jesus was standing with the sinners on the riverbank.
That’s why Jesus came. He comes to be with us.
Have you ever thought about that moment?
If there were a lot of people waiting for John to baptize them,
that suggests Jesus was standing there for awhile.
Sure, he could have gone to the front; but what if he didn’t?
Can you imagine standing next to him all that time?
What went on during that wait?
Maybe everyone was praying silently,
the way folks do while waiting outside the confessional.
But maybe they were talking.
Imagine standing in the confessional line,
and Jesus is standing behind you.
What would you talk about?
That’s what the Incarnation—God becoming human—is about.
God chooses to take part in all that he asks of us.
Each of us is baptized, beginning our life in Jesus,
beginning our life in the Holy Spirit.
Jesus didn’t need baptism –
he enjoyed the fullness of the Blessed Trinity –
but where we go, he goes.
And so, you may recall from other Scripture accounts of this event,
that John was startled. In Matthew’s Gospel,
John says, “I need to be baptized by you—yet you come to me?”
This event also serves to show how
Jesus is both the heir to the kingdom of David –
that is, he’s the Messiah – as well as showing he is the Son of God.
In the first book of Kings, when Solomon was anointed king,
first he went down into the river, and received a ritual bath.
That is, he was baptized.
And then, coming out of the water, he was anointed.
This ritual was overseen by the chief priest, and the prophet.
What we see here is a new and better Solomon –
the true King, entering into his kingdom.
And there is an anointing: but this comes from heaven:
the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove. Why a dove?
Why not flames of fire, as on Pentecost?
Why not thunder and lightning, as at Mount Sinai?
Well, I don’t know for sure, but here’s a thought.
A bolt of lightning tends to send people scurrying for cover.
God’s purpose here wasn’t to intimidate. Is a dove frightening?
In the story of Noah, a dove is the sign of life and of hope.
The second question I want to tackle is, what does all this mean for us?
When the Father speaks from heaven, he says:
“You are my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Of course that means Jesus. But don’t stop there. It also means us.
Get that? That’s the whole point of the Incarnation.
God came to be with us, so we could be with God.
Or as so many saints put it,
“God became man so that men might become God.”
Which is to say, to become partakers in divinity, to share God’s life.
So what happens when Jesus is baptized
shows us the meaning of our own baptism.
When we are baptized, we receive the Holy Spirit.
After the baptism, as the priest anoints the person with chrism,
He prays these words:
“As Christ was anointed priest, prophet and king,
so may you live always as a member of his body,
sharing everlasting life.”
Jesus’ baptism isn’t the end, but the beginning.
From here he goes into the desert to do battle with Satan.
After that, he goes to Galilee;
he performs his first miracle at the wedding in Cana.
We’ll hear that Gospel next Sunday.
From that point on, Jesus is on the move,
constantly seeking out the lost sheep of Israel.
He is also on the move, heading toward the Cross and the Resurrection.
This baptism is the launch, as it were, of his Messianic ministry.
Pope Francis often speaks of the need for the Church to be missionary;
to go out to the “peripheries,” as he says –
meaning, to those on the margins, to those most in need,
to the lost sheep.
And you’ve heard me talk about the task of sharing our faith.
This is why we’re anointed with the Holy Spirit.
It’s what we’ve been prepared, spiritually, to do.
You may think you can’t do it; that you aren’t equipped.
But God says otherwise.