Gospel Commentary by Fr. Joseph Rampino | The Baptism of the Lord
Baptized for Us
This Sunday presents to us a very strange Gospel, that of Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan. In order to under-stand what this episode and feast day really means for us, we must ask: why was Jesus Baptized?
First we have to understand what Baptism means for us. We know that when we are Baptized, we receive two primary graces. First, we are freed from our sins, the obstacle to our friendship with God, and second, we are joined to the body of Christ Himself. Being joined to Christ means the beginning of sanctifying grace in our souls, divine life itself flowing through us. We begin an exchange with the Lord Jesus at that moment, whereby He takes upon Himself everything that is ours, and in its place gives to us everything that is properly His. He chooses to bear our life along with us, and to make us, by adoption, every-thing that He is by nature. So then, we come to the Sacrament of Baptism marked and wounded by original sin, prisoners of the limits of our own nature, and we leave not only cleansed, but with a new identity as children of the Father, heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven, sharing in the divine life itself. It is the most important day in the life of any Christian soul, bar none.
Of course all of these things are Christ’s gift to us. He is the one providing us with all the tremendous graces that fill our souls in this great Sacrament. If this is so, however, then how do we explain Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan? Even if we acknowledge that the Baptism of John is not a Christian Sacrament, we still know that it was intended as a confession and cleansing of sin. Jesus, of course, as God Himself in the flesh, does not and cannot sin, so He has nothing to wash away. Even John, in Matthew’s Gospel, draws attention to this contradiction, saying “I need to be Baptized by you, and do you come to me?” So why, we ask again, does Jesus insist on being Baptized, and what does it mean?
The answer has to do with Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection. In Luke’s Gospel, when talking about His coming suffering in Jerusalem, Christ says “I have a Baptism to be Baptized with, and how I am constrained until it is accomplished!” So, knowing that the Lord considers the Passion to be intimately connected to Baptism, we can start to understand. In the Passion, Jesus takes our sins on His shoulders and bears them to the Cross to destroy them there. In the Jordan River today, He ritually takes our sins on His shoulders, undergoing the cleansing that we need in our place, as though the sins were His own. When He comes up from the water, the Father and the Holy Spirit makes their presence known, the Father declaring
“You are my beloved son. In you I am well pleased.” So also, after His Passion and Death, Jesus rises again, vindicated by the Father as the victorious and beloved Son, and pours out the Holy Spirit over humanity.
In all of this we can say that Jesus undergoes Baptism in order to show us what it is He will do to save us, and to give meaning to our Baptism. Now, as Christians, when we are Baptized, we share in His Passion, Death, and Resurrection, and in this way, we are joined to Him. We should think today about the value of our own Baptism, and resolve never to lose those great gifts by sin, but rather to cultivate them through faith, hope, and charity, until the day we can share life perfectly with Christ in the house of Our Father.