By Pamela Lewis
A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew 3:13-17
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw God’s Spirit descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from the heavens said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
John was explaining why Jesus’ baptism would be more powerful than his when Jesus appears and asks John to baptize him. If what John said is true, why would Jesus need to be baptized? Jesus is sinless and would therefore have no need of baptism for repentance. Despite John’s attempts to deter Jesus, the latter wins out, saying to let it be so for now to “fulfill all righteousness.”
That “all righteousness” is God’s work, which must be advanced. Jesus must be baptized because he is confessing sin on behalf of the entire nation, as Nehemiah, Ezra, Moses, and Daniel had done. To be baptized shows Jesus’ support for what John is doing. Jesus’ baptism inaugurates his public ministry. And his baptism signals his identification with God’s penitent people, rather than with the high-and-mighty (like the Pharisees and Sadducees), who believe their piety sets them apart from the ordinary people of God. As Jesus becomes one of us through his baptism, we are united with him through our own baptism.
Jesus’ baptism also creates a new relationship between Jesus, John, and God. Until now, John has been the powerful voice of truth and salvation, but he must now graciously step aside — become “less” — for Jesus to assume his rightful role (John 3:30). John shows his integrity by putting aside his renown for the benefit of others. God the Father speaks from heaven with love and approval of his Son, God the Son is baptized, and God the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus. All righteousness is and will be fulfilled.
Pamela A. Lewis taught French for 30 years before retirement. A lifelong resident of Queens, New York, she attends Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue and serves on various lay ministries. She writes for The Episcopal New Yorker, Episcopal Journal, and The Living Church.
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The Diocese of Montana
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