"Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him" (Matthew 3: 13)
I am sure these words from the Gospel according to Saint Matthew are familiar to all of us. The Feast of our Lord's epiphany cannot be separated from his baptism by John in the Jordan. The words of the Gospel are complemented by the festal icon which all of us have venerated. Truly, we enter a feast that we recognize and associate with the blessing of water. Yet, it is precisely this familiarity - this recognition - of the feast that threatens to hinder and perhaps bar our entering into its bright and saving mystery. Thus, it is necessary to take another look at what is familiar. It is necessary for us to see that the familiar is charged with the uncreated energy that binds us to the saving and transforming activity of the Lord Jesus.
Using the simple introduction to this morning's Gospel reading, I want us to grasp the dynamism and high Christology inherent in these words. Jesus comes from Nazareth in Galilee making his way to the Jordan to be baptized by John (cf. Mark 1:9). The fact that Jesus is from Nazareth maintains a harmonious connection with his humble birth in Bethlehem. Here we need to remember that the pre-eternal Word of God humbles himself to be born as a man. It is the God-Man who has come into the world to take upon himself our sin and our mortality. But he does not enter the world as a powerful king and ruler but as one who becomes homeless and a wanderer. The victory over sin and death will be accomplished through his cross, burial and resurrection. Jesus, the savior, ministers to the world as one who is humble and homeless while the powerful of the world want to destroy him.
Returning from Egypt - a land of the Gentiles - Jesus is raised in Nazareth. It is a place that is looked down upon if not openly despised; "Can anything good come out from Nazareth?" (John 1:46). Nazareth is not recognized as the place of origin for the king of the Jews. Nazareth is not the place from where comes the Savior of the cosmos. (cf. John 7:41-42, 52)
As the humble and homeless wanderer, Jesus comes to John. He stands in line with those whose sins will be washed away by John's baptism. He who is sinless joins the ranks of sinners. The Lamb of God who takes upon himself the sin of the world (John 1:29) enters the Jordan as the servant who will join John's baptism with the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire. "I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished." (Luke 12:49-50)
The Savior of the universe comes to the Jordan to be baptized. The creator humbles himself before the creature and is immersed into the waters of repentance. He ascends from the Jordan revealing himself as the eternally beloved Son of the Father who sends upon him the Holy Spirit. Ascending from the Jordan, Jesus bears the weight of sin and death throughout his public ministry.
The baptism of Jesus by John does not stand alone. It points to his passion and death. "Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?"(Mark 10:38). Jesus comes to John so that all righteousness may be fulfilled (Matthew 3:15). This righteousness entails self emptying, suffering and death upon the cross so incorruptible life can triumph over the dominion of hell.
The incarnate Son of God "who has no place to lay his head" (Matthew 8:20) stands with the sinners in order to raise them up into new and eternal life. In and through the Holy Spirit, the beloved Son of God now stands among us sinners desiring to lead us into the kingdom of new and eternal life.
Copyright © 2003 by Father Robert M. Arida