Do you remember the day that you were baptized? Perhaps you were just a baby and only have pictures to help you relive that special occasion; or perhaps you were older and are able to remember the sensation of the holy water pouring over your forehead as the priest (or deacon) pronounced the sacred words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Have you ever wondered why Jesus insisted on being baptized? (Mt 3:14) After all, He was God! In assuming our human nature He was completely free of sin, so He was in no need of any kind of repentance or purification. But if Jesus did not need to be baptized for His own sake, the answer to the question of why He chose to be baptized must be found in something that He accomplished for us, an action that was important for our sakes.
The Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the Jordan is a significant event to us for several reasons. First of all, it was the second occasion on which the divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ was made known.1 Everyone who was at the Jordan that day became a witness to the fact that Jesus was no ordinary man, but was the Son of God. God was so pleased with His Son’s submission to His Divine will that His voice was heard from the heavens, proclaiming, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Lk 3:22).
Secondly, Scripture tells us that after Jesus was baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove, signifying that Jesus would be the source of the Spirit for all mankind.2 St. Cyril of Alexandria writes, “The only-begotten Son received the Spirit, but not for his own advantage, for the Spirit is his, and is given in him and through him. … He receives it to renew our nature in its entirety and to make it whole again, for in becoming man he took our entire nature to himself. … Christ did not receive the Spirit for himself, but rather for us in him; for it is also through Christ that all gifts come down to us.”3
Finally, the Baptism of Jesus marked His acceptance of His public ministry. Through His humble act of submission in allowing Himself to be baptized by John in the Jordan, Jesus began His public ministry by demonstrating His unity with all of us in our human nature. In the Catechism we read, “He allows himself to be numbered among sinners; he is already ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.’ Already he is anticipating the ‘baptism’ of his bloody death. Already he is coming to ‘fulfill all righteousness’, that is, he is submitting himself entirely to his Father’s will: out of love, he consents to this baptism of death for the remission of our sins.”4 The Baptism of Our Lord therefore not only marks the beginning of His ministry, but also foreshadows His Death and Resurrection, which brought His earthly ministry to an end.
Today we have the opportunity to reflect back on our own baptism, to remember that on that day our old, sinful nature was buried with Jesus in the waters of Baptism and that one day, united to Him, we will also rise with Him to new life. As we begin a new year, may we reflect on the commitments that we made on that day (or that were made on our behalf by our parents or godparents), renewing our devotion to Jesus and trusting that He will give us the strength to draw closer and become more like Him each day.
– Sharon van der Sloot
“If you endeavour to have true piety the Holy Spirit will also descend upon you from above. You too will hear the voice of the Father saying, ‘This is not my Son, but now that he [she] has been baptized, he [she] has been made mine’.”5 ~St. Cyril of Jerusalem
1 The first occasion was the Adoration of the Magi from the East.
2 Cf. CCC, 536.
3 Saint Cyril of Alexandria, “Commentary on the Gospel of John” (Lib. 5, Cap. 2:PG 73, 751-54), The Liturgy of the Hours vol. 1 (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Corp., 1975), 604.
4 CCC, 536.
5 St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechesis III, About Baptism, 14.