Through the centuries we have come up with all sorts of explanations of why Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River. Jesus did not need to be baptized, particularly because the baptism of John was one of repentance and Jesus had nothing from which to repent. Perhaps we will never know why, what is important is that He subjected Himself to walk in the line of sinners.
We can almost picture the scene: a long line of people who felt that John’s baptism was their chance to start over—to be washed—to be cleansed. Sort of like coming to Reconciliation. The confessional is not so dramatic—not so messy—certainly not so wet. Baptism was around long before John the Baptism was born. Pagan tribes had the ritual of emersion as a purification rite. Water is a basic symbol of cleansing—a new beginning. Since John’s fame had spread and since the local clergy were apposed to his preaching, naturally that attracted the common people who had had their fill of pious platitudes and wanted something more—something radical. They wanted to change their life. John the Baptist was offering a way out of sin. And he had lots of customers. Imagine that in the crowd of notorious sinners, Jesus stood ready to take His turn. That’s the reason that Jesus came—to identify with us in every way, except sin. So He wanted to walk our path, to feel our pain, to experience our joy. Jesus took His turn, even when His time came to die. He is God. Jesus could have said no to death. Fact is that the thought was His last temptation: “If you are the Son of God, save yourself, come down from the cross.” All through His life Jesus said “no” to temptation and “yes” to the will of the Father. In order to get humanity back on track—back to the original plan—someone had to show us the way—step by step. Jesus showed us how to be human.
He was born into poverty—persecuted from infancy—and learned to be a carpenter. Not a very glorified trade. Gossip that Joseph was not his real father must have spread in the little town where everybody knew everybody. Our Lord certainly had His share of trials. The Gospels only speak about His getting lost in the Temple when He was twelve; otherwise the growing up years are left to our imagination. We conclude that He grew up like any other normal boy. Once Jesus became an adult, He got right down to business—the reason for His Incarnation—to free us from sin.
The Baptism marks the start of the Epiphany—the manifestation of Jesus as the Son of God, confirmed by the voice from heaven. Naturally Our Lord could have picked a much more glamorous site—like the top of the Temple—or a beautiful meadow—or a mountain top. He chose the River, surrounded by sinners. Look around, history repeats itself. In essence—our Church is like the River where sinners gather. We are not bad people, but none of us are perfect either. We loose it. We get impatient with each other, with traffic, with aches and pains. Sometimes perhaps we wish we were somewhere else—or we wish that we were someone else. Jesus stood at the River and didn’t want to be anywhere else. He stood with His people. John knew and wanted to run and hide. He knew that Jesus was His Savior and that He had no reason to get into the water—the same feeling of unworthiness that comes upon us when we know that we have sinned and want to crawl away and hide. Where can we hide? What can we tell God that God does not already know? There is no explanation for the love of God for us. The Holy Spirit has brought us to this Holy Church—to be washed—renewed—and nourished with the Body and Blood of Christ—to which we have no right to receive—only the privilege. Therefore, no matter what we have done, God is always ready to forgive.
The voice comes for heaven to address each of us. “You are my beloved Son; You are my beloved Daughter; with you I am well pleased.”