Why Was Jesus Baptized?
Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. 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 thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed him. Matthew 3:13-15
The gospel of Matthew is the only gospel in which we have this very outward and curious discussion between Jesus and John the Baptist prior to Jesus being baptized. John is clearly very reluctant to baptize Jesus. But Jesus insists, telling him, “just allow it for now.”
New Testament Scholars contend that Matthew is using this dialogue to address what had become a theological embarrassment, a theological difficulty for the early church; namely, why would Jesus, our sinless Messiah, submit to the baptism of John, which was a baptism for the repentance from sins? And one answer to that question comes from this time of Christmas itself. Jesus as God incarnate, as fully human completely identifies with Humanity, and so submits to being baptized. Others see this baptism as a reflection of the church’s first understanding of baptism, that baptism is our sharing in Christ’s death and Resurrection. And, so, in a way, Jesus being baptized by John is a foreshadowing in anticipation of Jesus’s own death and Resurrection. Still others point out Jesus’s solidarity with sinners in those who are ostracized and read his baptism in that light.
This is an easy multiple choice question, because all of the above are fine answers. We don’t have to choose one or the other. But in addition to all of those responses, I would suggest another: just as you can’t steal first base, you also cannot baptize yourself. You can’t baptize yourself. Even if you are the Son of God, the savior of humanity, and the second person of the Blessed Trinity, you don’t get to baptize yourself. And I think this is something that our loved ones who are spiritual but not religious and those who see no need for community to worship God fail to work fail to appreciate. By submitting to be being baptized by John, Jesus is reminding us of a fundamental truth about our spiritual journey, and the spiritual journey of every human being. Jesus recognizes that he is part of a history his own family history, the story of his own Jewish people. He is part of that history he is giving us a reminder that we all came from someone and that we are carry forward by the dreams and longings of others.
Our relationship to God is never separate from the Community of Christ. And, yet, being part of the community, being identified with the community, does bring about its own crosses, its struggles, it’s embarrassments, and its challenges. On the other hand it also provides support and encouragement and inspiration, and an awareness of being a part of something larger than ourselves and much greater than just the present moment. Baptism ties us to the Eternal communion of saints, something we get a taste of each and every Sunday as we gather around this table. The baptism of Jesus reminds us in a very clear way that we were fashioned for this life together.