Did Jesus Need To Be Baptized?

Pastors corner with Fr Henry Ibe

The feast of the Baptism of the Lord marks the end of the Christmas season and the start of the Ordinary Time. Jesus’ baptism was marked by his endorsement by the Father: “You are my son, the beloved, my favour rests on you.” John the Baptist also endorsed him as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). And soon after his temptation, Jesus said to his townspeople: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke 4:18-19). In other words, he is affirming all that the prophets said about him. Afterwards, we are told: “He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38).

Our Catechism teaches us that baptism is for the remission of sins. So, why did Jesus have to be baptised, being perfectly sinless? In the words of St Maximus of Turin: “Christ is baptized, not to be made holy by the water, but to make the water holy, and by his cleansing to purify the waters which he touched…for when the Saviour is washed, all water for our baptism is made clean, purified at its source for the dispensing of baptismal grace to the people of future ages.

”Also, Scripture has it that: “For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).The sinless one chose the path of sinners to help them discover the path of righteousness. God sees our misery, our inner rottenness, our selfishness, our sinfulness, our rebellion, and our spiritual apathy.

Nevertheless, he comes right into our midst, putting himself as close to us as possible, and even sharing in our sufferings. Jesus so much desired to reconcile us with the Father that he became our brother, and that’s the meaning of his baptism. That’s how deeply he longs for our friendship. He knows how difficult it is for us, so much that he chose to come and walk us through the rough and treacherous paths of life, to be our tower of strength. That’s why he took our place in the waters of baptism, and on the wood of the cross.

Since the Lord’s own baptism, the Sacrament of Baptism has remained primary vehicle that God uses to transport fallen humanity back into divine communion. The sacrament itself, like that of our Lord, is loaded with symbolisms showing the wonder and power of God’s saving love. The anointings at baptism, for instance, remind us of our royalty as the children of God. According to St. Peter: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9). This is the work of baptism – ushering us into the kingdom that Christ came to establish.

Therefore, as we ponder the Lord’s baptism today, let us reflect on our own baptism, and the wondrous gifts of grace that flow from it. Let us also reflect on the crisis currently facing the sacramental life of the Church. There is a big gap today between receiving the sacraments and their fruitfulness in one’s life. Many are obtaining the sacraments but are, unfortunately, missing out on the fruits. This happens when the recipient lacks the proper disposition. A couple, for instance, might organize a wedding ceremony in response to social norm or family pressure without any conscious, real or profound connection to the sacramental grace of marriage. Such an arrangement might be valid but not fruitful. Also, when children get baptised just so they could go to a Catholic school, but are not given the basic foundations of the faith at the family level, there is obviously a problem there. The result is an explosion in the population of uncatechised Catholics, and the consequent crisis of faith in society.

Therefore, we are called to rethink our own baptism and our faith journey in general. Just like Jesus’ baptism launched his public ministry, our own baptism marked the beginning of our Christian stewardship. We may not be John the Baptist or any of the early disciples, but we are all called to live up to our baptismal calling by doing our bit to promote the kingdom of God. Everyone is important in the house of God, no matter how seemingly little or insignificant our efforts might be. We can be sure that God will not judge us on what he has not called us to. If one is called to be a mother, God will not be judging her as a cloistered nun. If one is a teacher, God will not be judging him/her as a nurse or painter. We all will be judged according to our vocation in life. The challenge then is to let the grace of God fill us in our vocation so that whatever we do, no matter how big or small, might facilitate our journey to heaven.

We need the Holy Spirit to confirm us in every good work; the same Holy Spirit who came upon Jesus at the River Jordan to confirm his election as the Messiah of God, the same Holy Spirit who hovered over the waters of the earth at the dawn of creation (Gen. 1:2).May the same Holy Spirit enkindle in us the fire of his love; that we may rediscover the fruitfulness of sacramental life. Amen!