In tomorrow's Gospel reading Matthew recounts Jesus' baptism by John in the Jordan River. We take Jesus' baptism for granted today, but it was not always such an easy fact to accept for John's baptism was for sin and Jesus was the sinless one. John Kavanaugh, S. J. of Saint Louis University has written about this saying,
Why was Jesus baptized? Even for the early church, as the canon of scripture itself was being formed, it seems to have been a controversial question. If Jesus goes before John for the “baptism of repentance,” it seems that Jesus himself is a sinner. The account from the Gospel of Matthew suggests as much when giving voice to John’s reluctance: “It is I who need baptism from you, and yet you come to me!”
...It is not only a special irony. It is a central image of the redemptive mystery. Jesus enters into radical solidarity with all men and women, taking upon himself even the condition of our sinfulness, himself having not sinned. The “one more powerful” assumes the position of weakness. It is precisely in this that he is beloved. And it is from this baptism sign that he is sent.
He was like us in all things but sin, the author of Hebrews reminds us when discussing Jesus’ high priesthood. And yet we balk at the statement. “If he did not sin, how could he really be like us? How could he be fully human?”
We misunderstand this because we misunderstand our humanity as well as our sin. Christ has come not only to reveal the divinity to us; he has come to reveal us to ourselves. Not only is he truly God. He is truly human. And he is truly human precisely because he does not sin. All of our sin is nothing other than the rejection of the truth of our humanity. Jesus’ utter acceptance of our humanity, his drinking of our cup fully, his sharing of our wounded condition, reverses our sinful rejection of our creatureliness.
His baptism, then, is at the heart of his mission to heal us. He enters even the wounds of our self-rejection, without having made the rejection himself. He accepts full solidarity with us even if it means being seen as sinner. Jesus’ baptism is one of his earliest great transformations of our human condition.
Labels: Gospel reading