As we round out and conclude the Christmas Season, we focus on the Baptism of the Lord, which prepares us for moving forward into our following the three-year ministry of Jesus. We are also preparing for that great season of Lent which leads to the Resurrection of Our Lord.
So, what can we learn from this very pivotal moment of Our Lord’s life? Let’s look at a couple of key points:
First: Jesus is Baptized at the Jordan River, at a point along the Jordan River which is the lowest place in the world geographically. Jesus makes Himself manifested to the world at the lowest points, right at the times when we the He has abandoned us, He is actually closer to us that we could possibly imagine.
Second: As Jesus emerges from the waters, the voice of the Father is heard: “You are My Beloved Son. In You, I am well pleased!” What happens immediately after that? Jesus is driven into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. How does the devil begin? “If you are the Son of God …” But we just heard the clear and distinct voice of the Father say: “You are my Beloved Son.” We are all baptized into the life, death and resurrection of Christ. We share in His mission and His grace. Therefore, we are all beloved children of God. Let us not let the devil cast any doubt in our minds about our true identity.
Third: How is it that Jesus – who is sinless – submits Himself for a baptism for the remission of sin? Let us approach the answer to this puzzle with Our Lord’s own words: Jesus responds: “… to fulfill all righteousness …”
This is not only about fulfilling Old Testament prophecies, but has to do with the traditional Jewish understanding of sin and righteousness.
Sin, according to the ancient Jewish understanding, is a debt owed to God and to others. When we do something wrong, we owe to God something to make up for it. How can we make up to an eternal God, when we are finite creatures? Also, one can accrue a mountain of debt to God but unrighteous deeds – sins. One can reach a “debt ceiling” or “credit limit,” beyond which that person gets into a world of hurt. The punishment of God comes crashing down.
On the other hand, righteous deeds are like a wage – a merit – counted toward a person’s spiritual bank account, as it were. Recall how Scripture tells us, “love covers a multitude of sins,” or Jesus’ own teachings on laying up treasure in heaven. So here, Jesus says that He is undergoing this baptism He does not need – not for His own benefit, but for ours; and in his baptism on the Cross, He is filling up to the full (hence, “fulfilling”) all the righteousness needed to pay off the debt of our sin to God.1
So how is it that we, who are weak and finite creatures, could possibly pay back an Eternal God for our sins against Him? We never could! Our own efforts never could make up for our offenses against Him. It is only by the One who alone could ever accomplish this: Jesus Christ.
He paid a debt He didn’t own, because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.
1Pitre, Brant. Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. url:”https://catholicproductions.com/blogs/mass-readings-explained-year-a”. 2020.
Christ paid a debt He didn’t own, because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay.– Dr. Scott Hahn