Why was Jesus baptized?

Given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.

As we hear - once again - the account of Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, don't we ask: "Why was Jesus baptized?" Through the Sacrament of Baptism, adults who have never been baptized and have, in fact, personally sinned, have all their sins forgiven and are given God's life, sanctifying grace, we call it. As a result, they actually are reborn as the adopted sons and daughters of God, capable of living in a new way, with love of God and neighbor. Through the Sacrament of Baptism, infants and those who have not reached the age by which they can freely choose good or evil, likewise are given God's life, sanctifying grace, we call it. As a result, they too actually are reborn as His adopted sons and daughters, capable of living in a new way, with love of God and neighbor, especially after they reach the age of freely choosing good or evil.

But, Jesus is the Eternal Son of God, Who took on our human nature - all of it, in fact, but never sinned, and so He always lived in complete fidelity to God His Father, loving Him and loving every person created by God. In fact, Jesus Christ came so that by dying on the cross and rising to new life, He could remove the permanence of evil, sin and death, so that we can live forever with God. In doing this, Jesus Christ enables us to experience the fulfillment of the deepest longings of the human heart: to be loved, not just for a while, but forever.

All well and good, but the question still demands an answer: "Why did Jesus go to the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist?" He never sinned, so there was no sin to be forgiven. He is the Eternal Son of God, so He did not need to be given God's life. Jesus went to be baptized in order to model for us the only authentic approach to God our Father (cf. The Magnificat, Jan. 2015, Vol. 16, No. 11, p.144). He goes as a beggar, as one who honestly admits the longing in the human heart to be loved, really loved for who we are, not for what we do. He goes to God His Father as one who honestly acknowledges that we cannot fulfill ourselves with anything solely human: not with power or prestige, not with pleasure or possessions, but only by another's presence and love. And that "another" is beyond even the loving spouse with whom we live our married life or the loyal friend who never abandons us. That "another" is the One Who created us in His own image and likeness, the One Whom St. Augustine finally found after so many years of searching, the One Whom St. Augustine described in these words: "Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in You!"

Jesus went to be baptized so that, being our model and even more, being one with us through His Word and Sacraments, we can actually try to love every day as God the Father's beloved sons and daughters, pleasing to Him because we too, like Christ, seek to do good to others and to heal them of the greatest sickness of all: the sickness of isolation and loneliness. Of course, we should love as His beloved sons and daughters in a perfect manner. But because we have inherited the effects of that first sin, the original sin, we are prone to not loving God and neighbor as we ought. But in Jesus Christ, we have an advocate Who pleads for us and forgives us our sins, no matter what they are, provided that we seek His mercy.

So our question does have an answer. "Why was Jesus the Sinless One baptized?" To show us how to live as the adopted sons and daughters of God our Father and to give us the grace - the ability - never to cease trying to be like Him, loving God and loving one another day in and day out.

God the Father spoke at our Baptism and now repeats to us what He spoke to Jesus coming out of the water at His baptism: "You are my beloved sons and daughters with whom I am well pleased!" So today, right now, we "who have been baptized (into Christ Jesus), listen to the voice that calls us beloved children and gives us a work to do, the work of the Gospel proclaimed and lived in love for God and neighbor"(cf. op.cit. p. 142).

In the calendar of the Church, today is the end of the Christmas season. As we look forward to tomorrow and the start of Ordinary Time, we say with joy, "United in Christ, we begin again!"

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015