By Father John Bayer
Special to The Texas Catholic
On January 8, 2018, we celebrate the baptism of Jesus “in the Jordan by John” (Mk 1:9-11). The evangelist Mark tells us that the baptism John preached was “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mk 1:4). But if it is for the forgiveness of sins, why does Jesus, the all holy Son of God, accept to be baptized?
Obviously, the Son eternally in love with his Father could never have known the sadness of sin (cf. Heb 4:15; 2 Cor 5:21). On the contrary, his baptism was an act of docile obedience, as the evangelist Matthew tells us (cf. Mt 3:14-15). It was a sign that his whole life was to manifest this loving relationship between Father and Son (cf. Mk 1:11; Mt 3:17; Lk 3:21-22). And what was the Son obeying, precisely? Why did the Father want him to be baptized “to fulfill all righteousness” (Mt 3:15)? It must have to do with the reason underlying his Incarnation altogether: namely, to live among us and to share our condition so deeply that our destinies become entwined, such that God and man might together enter the tomb of death in order to emerge victorious over all evil.
When the Son of God became incarnate, he not only took upon himself a human nature. He joined the human family in complete solidarity. That is to say, he also joined our history and thus became not only a member of our species but also a member of our community. He associates with us. When he was baptized in the Jordan, he joined the People of Israel in its dramatic journey back to God. He stands now shoulder-to-shoulder with them and allows them to enjoy all the merits of his identity.
Forgive the somewhat paltry comparison, but it is like when the cool kid sits at the lunch table of the socially marginalized kids at school. Cool and uncool kids (whatever those adjectives mean) obviously share the same human nature. But there is a dramatic increase in their solidarity and its consequences when the cool kid decides to cast his lot with the uncool – socially speaking, their destinies merge entirely and the rest of the class has to decide whether the cool kid just made the uncool kids cool, or whether the uncool kids have tainted the cool one. Jesus took this gamble with us. By associating with us entirely, all his merits became ours and all our failures became his – and now we are judged together as a single human family. And now the only unforgivable sin is to deny the Holy Spirit (cf. Mk 3:28-30), or the one who dwells in us precisely to unite us together in the Son, thereby solidifying our complete solidarity and enabling us with him “to cry, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Rm 8:15).
At our own baptism, we receive the gift of this solidarity. Through thick and thin, we are now grafted together as members of the Body of Christ – that single organism “in travail” through time as Christ grows “to full stature” and awaits his final birth at the end of history (Eph 4:13; Jn 16:21-23). In this Christmas season, let us remember some of the key words that bring this mystical reality into the world – associating, sharing, solidarity, empathy, reconciling, reaching out, uniting and binding together. Let us unite our affections, understanding and work, and so show our faith in the Holy Spirit, who “blows where he wills” (Jn 3:8) to draw us together. If we learn to cherish unity in our families, communities and Church, like Jesus does, we will come to understand the meaning of his baptism.
Father John Bayer, O.Cist., is a theologian and monk at the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas in Irving.