Did Jesus need John's Baptism?

6 January 2006: Friday before Epiphany
Mark 1, 7-11: The Baptism of Jesus

The Gospel relates simply the story of the baptism of Jesus. Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee was baptized by John in the Jordan. After his baptism, the Spirit came down on him and a voice was heard, “You are my beloved Son; I am well pleased with you.”

Why did Jesus want John’s baptism? He didn’t need it: he was sinless so John’s call to repentance did not apply to him. Jesus’ baptism would be far better, and John acknowledged that he baptizes with water, but Jesus baptizes with the Spirit. John recognizes that one more powerful than him is soon to come after him. Was Jesus’ baptism by John a useless exercise?

William Barclay said that baptism for Jesus meant four things: First, it was a moment of decision. After thirty years, Jesus launches his public ministry with a major life-changing decision.

For many of us, there is a point when we have to make a major life-changing decision like a shift in one’s career, when one decides to marry, a perpetual commitment in religious life, working abroad, ending a relationship, etc. And each decision demands a shift in life-style: a young couple with their month-old daughter told me about their farewell to a regular social life. The same with the sacrament of Baptism: in our decision to become Catholic Christians, we agree to a change of life, a different world-view, a different way of relating with people.

Second, it was a moment of identification. Though Jesus was sinless, he identified himself with the sinful. People are repenting and returning to God, and He would like to be part of this movement. And to identify himself with the sinners is what he would like to do.

Many of us are members of certain movements. When we contribute to a call to help flood victims, we definitely are not victims of calamities. But by donating or contributing our time to these mobilizations, we put ourselves in their shoes, and thus identifying with their suffering. We become one with them. In Baptism, we affiliate ourselves with the movement of Christianity. And thus we become workers in the promotion of God’s Kingdom in this world.

Third, it was a moment of approval. When Jesus embarked on this life-changing decision, he needed to be assured that He was on the right path. The voice that confirms his identity as God’s beloved is an approval of his decision. Mark makes it clear that it is God himself who blesses Jesus.

Our decisions need some form of approval. When we decide, we consult many people: friends, family, and professionals. When one needs an operation, we get a second opinion on diagnosis. Even in the life of Christians. In discerning the will of God, St. Ignatius asks the one who prays to ask God to help him in his decision and afterwards, ask for God's confirmation. He said that the feeling of one being confirmed by God is peacefulness. Discernment presupposes that God descends on all of us; that we are capable of knowing His will because of the presence of the Spirit in us, given to us in Baptism.

Finally, it was a moment of equipment. The descent of the Spirit is symbolized by a dove coming down upon him. The dove is the Jews' sacred bird, the symbol of gentleness. In his ministry, he was equipped with the Spirit. It is not easy to do God’s will, but we are assured of the help of the Spirit. It is the Spirit who equips us to understand our faith, to read the signs of the times, to see the movement of God in the world today.

I guess this is what Christmas means: that God becomes one with us, and becomes like us except sin. By asking to be baptized like every one else, Jesus authentically shows his decision to be one with us. On our part, we look at how we decide: How do we become one with God in our decisions? Do we include Him in our decisions or do we decide for ourselves first and then ask God to support us?

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