Today we are at a threshold in time where we cross over from Christmas time to Ordinary time. We cross this threshold with the story of Jesus’ baptism. The question we may have about this event in his life is, why did he choose to be baptized? He is the sinless son of God, after all. Matthew narrates how John the Baptist’s response to Jesus echoes that question, saying, “John tried to prevent him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?’ Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Allow it now, for this it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness’” (3:14-15).
While it may seem strange for Jesus to be baptized, there are three things his baptism accomplishes. The first is it initiates Jesus’ ministry. Scholars believe that Jesus may have been a disciple of John prior to beginning his own ministry. Immediately following this story, Jesus goes off into the desert to fast, pray and encounter temptation. So his time in the desert is understood to be a time of discernment and prayer about his own mission and ministry. The second thing is it associates Jesus with our human condition and sin. Jesus is sinless, but he undergoes this Jewish baptism of repentance. Jesus enters into this baptism, to be in solidarity with his Jewish community and indeed with all of humanity. The final thing Jesus’ baptism does is model repentance for us. In taking on this baptism of repentance, though it is not needed, Jesus “fulfills all righteousness” and brings himself and all of humanity with him into right relationship with God.
Because of Jesus’ participation in human history and the human story, we hear God’s voice proclaim, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt. 3:17). Matthew depicts the scene “with the Spirit of God descending like a dove” as a physical marker of God’s approval to affirm the verbal one. This is a moment of revelation. Jesus is revealed as God’s son, and it is a moment of revelation for Jesus as God’s beloved, called to go forth into the world to do what he is called to do.
What this story of Jesus baptism reveals to us is that he is the fulfillment of our humanity and all we can be. He is God’s beloved, the one who comes to restore our relationship with God. But, this is not just Jesus’ story; this is our story too. By our baptism we enter into this story of right relationship with God. We, too, are called to do something special, just like Jesus. We, too, are called to be the Beloved children of God.