‘Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptised by John.” The baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan reveals the full meaning and purpose of the birth that we so recently celebrated at Christmas. Indeed, what was revealed as Jesus approached John the for baptism would be lived out in every word and deed of his ministry, and especially in his death and Resurrection.
From the moment of his baptism, the life of Jesus was no longer hidden. It became a life lived and given among us, a life lived in the world, a life that never ceased to witness to the love of the Father. We cannot recall this scene without being reminded of our own baptism and its significance for the conduct of our lives.
Our baptism, like the baptism of Jesus, was neither secret nor hidden. As Jesus was baptised before the crowds that had flocked to John the Baptist, so were we baptised in the presence of the Church’s minister, our families and the many friends who gathered to celebrate our baptism. As we contemplate the baptism of Jesus as the revelation of his whole life, we should likewise reflect upon our own lives as the living expression of our own baptism.
The first thing that we notice in Matthew’s account is the humility with which Jesus approached his baptism. Unlike ourselves, touched as we are by humanity’s sinful history, Jesus had no need for John’s baptism of repentance. Thus John the Baptist tried in vain to dissuade Jesus from such a baptism, protesting “that it is I who need baptism from you, and yet you come to me!”
Sinless though he was, Jesus did not hesitate to stand among us, to identify himself completely with the many struggles that confront a sinful people and, in his sharing, to overcome them.
The manner of Christ’s baptism reveals the power of our own baptism, and the manner in which baptism sets us free from the limitations of our own sinful nature. “As soon as Jesus was baptised he came up from the water, and suddenly the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on him. And a voice spoke from heaven: ‘This is my Son, the beloved; My favour rests on him.’ ”
At his baptism Jesus was acknowledged as Son by the Father, and was entrusted with the power of the Holy Spirit. As the brother of our humanity he entered fully into that love that had always been his with the Father and that love became the driving force of his ministry. We also must constantly take possession of the love that was entrusted to us at our own baptism. Baptism is to be lived, not simply recalled.
The words spoken at the baptism of Jesus, insofar as they echoed the words of the Prophet Isaiah, revealed the manner in which Christ would live his life. It would be a path of humility and suffering. “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom my soul delights. He does not cry out or shout aloud. He does not break the crushed reed, nor quench the wavering flame. I have taken you by the hand and formed you to open the eyes of the blind, to free captives from prison, and those who live in darkness from the dungeon.”
May we so live the sacrament of our baptism that we bring to our world light, rather than darkness, and the freedom to live in the fullness of the Father’s love.