Why does Jesus need to be baptized by John?
In our reading from Matthew this Sunday, John is wondering just that: I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me? And Jesus’s answer is a bit enigmatic: Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. While Jesus himself has no sin, and therefore no need for a baptism of repentance, by allowing himself to be baptized by John, he is aligning himself with sinful humanity, and thus accepting to participate in God’s plan. Echoing the story of Abraham and Isaac –this is my beloved son, says the voice from the heavens—Jesus is identified as the sacrifice, the one who has come to die for the salvation of all, healing all division as he takes sin to the Cross.
Thus it is not surprising that we hear from the first Suffering Servant Song in Isaiah: Here is my servant whom I uphold, the Lord says, my chosen one, with whom I am well pleased. Like the Servant, Jesus comes to demonstrate that the covenant is not destroyed, because God continues to uphold it. Reaching out to all nations, God sends mercy and hope, healing and compassion; God’s restorative spirit is upon the Servant, who will offer justice to all peoples. And Peter’s discourse at the house of Cornelius in our reading from Acts underscores the fact that God’s generosity is for all: In truth, I see that God shows no partiality, he says. Jesus, anointed by God with the Holy Spirit and power, made it his mission to heal all.
We are thus called, as Psalm 29 instructs, to give to the Lord the glory due his name. To praise God is to enter into union with all creation; it is not an option, but a mandate, one that allows us to open ourselves to the salvific mission that Jesus himself embraces at the moment of his baptism, God’s saving action in our lives: I have grasped you by the hand, the Lord says in Isaiah. If Jesus is identified as God’s beloved Son, we too must recognize that God is ever reaching out to us in relationship as well, offering us an opportunity to fulfill all righteousness, calling us to be a light for the nations, and bringing the news of salvation to all.
This post is based on Fr. Pat's Scripture class.