The Baptism of Jesus (Lk 3:21, 22)

The Baptism of Jesus.*

21o After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying,* heaven was opened

22* p and the holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

John’s baptism was not like our Christian baptism.  For us, baptism is a sacrament which carries with it many graces.  When you are baptized, all sins are forgiven, you become a new creation in Christ, you are incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ (the Church), and you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit – permanently, irreversibly configured to Christ.  Christian Baptism is done once; it cannot be repeated.

On the other hand, John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance.  It was an outward sign that a person would publicly make to show that they wanted to repent of their sins and conform themselves to God’s will.  People could repeat this type baptism whenever they wanted to reaffirm their commitment.

So this begs the question: why did Jesus receive John’s baptism.  He certainly didn’t have any sins and didn’t need to repent.  He didn’t need to change his life to be conformed to God’s will.  So why was he baptized?

There are many reflections written about this event.  Among them is an outstanding contribution from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (he wrote the book while he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) Jesus of NazarethFrom the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration.  I won’t even try to synopsize his exegesis; I could never do it justice.

If you’re not inclined to get the book (but I wholeheartedly recommend that you do) then I’ll put forward a few meager words to help reflect on this mystery.

Recall that we asked ourselves a similar question when Jesus was circumcised (see our reflection on Lk 2:21).  Circumcision was the covenant whereby a child (or a man) was incorporated into the people of Israel.  But isn’t Jesus greater than the People of Israel?  Shouldn’t they be incorporated into Him?  But here we are again.  Similarly, Jesus is surrounded by crowds repenting of their sins.  Wouldn’t we expect him to lead them rather than become one of them?

However, becoming one of us is exactly why Jesus came.  In submitting Himself to John’s baptism, Jesus humbled himself; Jesus empties himself and stands up to be counted among sinners.

Our Lord has done more than take on our punishment for sins – death.  Jesus also takes on our guilt.

In reflecting on this passage let’s pray for the grace to understand what it means to be human.  Our God has come down from heaven to be counted as one of us.  This act alone elevates the dignity of humanity.  In Jesus’s Incarnation, birth, circumcision, and baptism He has placed humans far above any of his other creatures.  Pray for the grace to treat every human as deserving the respect and dignity that Christ has given them.  Pray for the grace to conduct ourselves in accord with the dignity that Christ has given us.


Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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