Baptism of the Lord. Fr Peter Clarke tells us how Jesus identifies with the lowly in His baptism.
John had done a great job of preparing the people for the coming of Jesus. St. Matthew records that “Jerusalem and all Judaea and the whole Jordan district made their way to him, and as they were baptized by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins,” (3.6) In the harsh solitude of the desert John had made the people ready for what would be a life-changing encounter with Jesus.
The Baptist was such a success story that in order to deflect celebrity status away from himself he had to tell the crowd there at that very moment and in there very midst was one “who comes after me is more powerful than I, and I am not fit to carry his sandals,” (3.11).
Never for a moment did John expect that Jesus would join the crowd in seeking to be baptized by him! John vehemently objected, “It is I who need baptism from you, and yet you come to me!” The reply of Jesus was even more emphatic, “Leave it like this for the time being; it is fitting that we should, in this way, do all that uprightness demands.” For Jesus it would have been utterly wrong for Him to stand as an aloof spectator to what was most obviously a God-inspired dramatic occurrence.
John, therefore, went ahead in baptizing Jesus. Righteousness had demanded this. In so doing the Baptist had been given a glimpse of what it meant for the Son of God to become the Son of Mary – one of us, a member of the human family, a child of Adam. In this John had received a hint of how it would be throughout the ministry of Jesus.
Ordinary people would realize that whatever Jesus had done for them and for others, whatever Jesus had said to them in his inspiring sermons and in his kindly chatting to them, had come from ‘one of them.’
The uprightness that Jesus spoke of to the Baptist demanded that Jesus should fulfill the role assigned to Him in the prophesies of Isaiah, “He had no form or charm to attract us, no beauty to win our hearts; 3 he was despised, the lowest of men, a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering, one from whom, as it were, we averted our gaze, despised, for whom we had no regard. 4 Yet ours were the sufferings he was bearing, ours the sorrows he was carrying, while we thought of him as someone being punished and struck with affliction by God; 5 whereas he was being wounded for our rebellions, crushed because of our guilt; the punishment reconciling us fell on him, and we have been healed by his bruises,” (Is.53).
Jesus Himself made it clear to His disciples that, ‘the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many,’ (Mtt.20.28). When insisting that John should baptize Him Jesus wished to melt into the crowd of the marginalized and rejects of society. Being with them in their kind of underworld, Jesus would raise them up; meet them in their despair and give them hope; accompany them in their pain and console and cure them; accept them in their shame and bring forgive them.
No wonder Jesus insisted John should treat Him in the same way as he was treating repentant sinners – baptizing Him together with them! What a privilege for John to be the one to enable Jesus to set the style and tone for His own Mission and Ministry of finding what was lost and of healing what was sick.
Jesus had told John how He wanted it to be. St. Paul told the Philippians and now tell us what being a follower of Jesus really means, “Make your own the mind of Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped. 7 But he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are; and being in every way like a human being, 8 he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross,” (Phil.2.6).