Question of The Week – Baptism of Jesus
The Baptism of John the Baptist and the Sacrament of Baptism are not the same thing. Jesus did undergo the baptism of John but it would make no sense for him to receive any sacrament (since every sacrament is an encounter with Jesus).
This distinction is clearly expressed in The Acts of the Apostles, chapter 19, verses 1 – 8. In that passage we hear of St. Paul’s trip to Ephesus where he found some disciples of John the Baptist who had received John’s baptism. Paul explained that John’s baptism was “a baptism of repentance”, leading people “to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” Paul proceeded to baptize these disciples “in the name of the Lord Jesus” and laid his hands on them to receive the Holy Spirit.
Jesus received the Baptism of John, which did not forgive sins but did demonstrate a person’s desire to repent and turn from sin. Even in this, Jesus would have no need to “turn from sin.” The gospel records that even John considered it strange that Jesus would undergo his baptism. In Matthew 3:14 & 15 John tells Jesus: “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” Jesus responds that it should be done “to fulfill all righteousness.”
To understand this we must remember that Jesus is truly human and that he is, in St. Paul’s words, the “New Adam.” Jesus is the destiny and the ultimate expression of humanity. (This is the basic meaning of the term “The Son of Man” that is often used by Jesus in referring to himself.) We can say that Jesus received John’s Baptism as the perfect symbol, or representative, of all humanity. His baptism by John showed the need that human beings will always have for repentance and redemption.
Fr. Tom Sieg
June 18, 2012