Catholic Classroom: The Baptism of Jesus
Question: Why did Jesus have to be baptized?
Today, we end the Christmas season with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The baptism that Jesus received from John the Baptist was not the same as the sacrament Christians receive today. It was a call to repentance, but it did not remove the stain of original sin. Jesus, however, had no need for repentance, nor did he have original sin. Why, then, was he baptized? Rather than being a requirement to remove sin, this was an active choice that Jesus made. Even John the Baptist questioned that choice (Mark 3:14). Yet the three key implications of this choice are stunning indications of God’s love for us.
1. Jesus humbled himself by being baptized and joining sinners.
Jesus did not need to repent for any sin, actual or original. He knew this, and he still insisted that John the Baptist baptize him in the Jordan River. By receiving baptism, Jesus joined us sinners and took on the burden of our sin. At this moment, the beginning of his public ministry, he took the next crucial step in agreeing to bear the sins of the world and grant us salvation. Although he was spotless, he did not put himself above baptism because he wanted to partake fully in our humanity in all things but sin.
2. The Lord reveals to us the Trinity at Jesus’ baptism.
In his Gospel, Mark writes, “When Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Mark 3:16-17). Here, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit come together to reveal the Trinity. For the first time, Jesus is revealed as the Messiah. This was a tipping point in salvation history, and the invocation of the Trinity is a beautiful indication of that.
3. Jesus sanctified the waters of baptism for us.
Today, Christians are blessed to receive the sacrament of Baptism, through which God cleanses us of original sin and we are incorporated into the Body of his Church. The sacramental nature of this action comes from Jesus’ own baptism. Just as we receive grace from baptism, Jesus imparted grace when he received baptism by sanctifying the baptismal waters. It is thanks to his selfless, humbling act of being baptized that we receive grace in the sacrament of Baptism.