THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD
According to the account of the Evangelist Matthew (3:13-17), Jesus came from Galilee to the River Jordan to be baptised by John; indeed people were flocking from all over Palestine to hear the preaching of this great Prophet and the proclamation of the coming of the Kingdom of God and to receive Baptism, that is, to submit to that sign of penance which calls for conversion from sin.
Although it was called “Baptism” it did not have the sacramental value of the rite we are celebrating today; as you well know, it was actually with his death and Resurrection that Jesus instituted the sacraments and caused the Church to be born. What John administered was a penitential act, a gesture of humility to God that invited a new beginning: by immersing themselves in the water, penitents recognized that they had sinned, begged God for purification from their sins and were asked to change wrong behaviour, dying in the water, as it were, and rising from it to new life.
For this reason, when John the Baptist saw Jesus who had come to be baptized queueing with sinners he was amazed; recognizing him as the Messiah, the Holy One of God, the One who is without sin, John expressed his consternation: he, the Baptist, would himself have liked to be baptised by Jesus. But Jesus urged him not to put up any resistance, to agree to do this act, to do what is fitting “to fulfil all righteousness”.
With these words Jesus showed that he had come into the world to do the will of the One who had sent him, to carry out all that the Father would ask of him. It was in order to obey the Father that he accepted to be made man. This act reveals, first of all, who Jesus is: he is the Son of God, true God as the Father; he is the One who “humbled himself” to make himself one of us, the One who was made man and who accepted to humble himself unto death on a cross (cf. Phil 2:7).
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Sistine Chapel, Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, 2011
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