For the early Christians, the thought that their Lord had Himself undergone baptism was disturbing, embarrassing and even scandalous. Did the spotless Lamb, the Holy One of God, really acknowledge that He was truly united with sinful humanity by submitting to an act of ritual purification? Why did the Son of God in human form undergo a rite of cleansing?
The moment God-made-Man came to be washed, He revealed the abasement of God in an act of loving kindness by becoming one with humanity. For this baptism is a symbolic passing through the waters of the Red Sea that guarded the entrance to the Promised Land. In His solidarity with the men and women of this world, Jesus who makes Himself an exile like us, is able to lead us back from exile, out of the wilderness, to our new home with His Heavenly Father.
And our journey home begins also with our own baptism, when we become adopted sons and daughters of God. This means that what the Father says to Christ in today’s Gospel He also says to us: you are my beloved child. Today we hear from God the words that should transform our lives, because just like Jesus, our identity is now a beloved child of God; and this love goes far beyond even the love a good parent has for their child.
The humanity of Jesus is now joined to the divinity of Jesus, which we celebrate at Christmas, necessarily leads to His three years of ministry. For Jesus was not born of woman to give us a nice image for Hallmark Cards. The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. And so sharing in our human flesh, He was able to serve and ransom His brothers and sisters.
The baptism of Jesus in the Jordan marks the beginning of His ministerial life, made possible by His incarnation in the womb of Mary and His birth at Bethlehem. As Bethlehem must lead to the Jordan River; so the Jordan River must lead to His final victory over sin and death on Calvary. The saving ministry, passion and death of Jesus were accomplished in human history through both His natures; divine and human.
Just as Bethlehem leads to the Jordan River, so the Jordan River leads to Calvary. Jesus enters into the Jordan River, not only to make the water holy, but as an antecedent to Calvary, where He will go down under into the abode of the dead. The river is dark, but the shimmering gold which surrounds the figure of Christ shines like a pillar of light. Being submerged under the water is the prefigurement of His entrance into the darkness of the tomb. Just as Jesus transforms the dark waters of the Jordan into life-giving waters; so He transforms the dark tomb of death by the radiant light of His Resurrection. And this same gift of the resurrection is now offered to the brothers and sisters by sharing in this radiant light leading us into a new and eternal life in Heaven.