January 12, 2020
The Baptism of Jesus
The passage of today’s Gospel (Mt. 3:13-17) begins with an annotation of place: Jesus is in Galilee, and from there He goes to Jordan, to John, and to be baptized by him (Mt. 3:13). There is, therefore, a precise deliberateness about Jesus, who sets out precisely with this purpose, with this goal: to be baptized by John the Baptist.
Jesus, therefore, goes to a specific place, to the place where all those who consider themselves sinners, who wish to be baptized by John and who await salvation, gathered at that time.
Once arrived, Jesus does not begin to proclaim that the Messiah has finally come and that it is He. Jesus does not present Himself as a Messiah who comes to defeat evil with His strength, with His powers, but as a Messiah who puts Himself beside man, who becomes a brother. Jesus does exactly what everyone else does, namely, He gets baptized, He makes solidarity with the sinful people. He presents Himself before men as covered in sin. Love cancels the distance between God and sinner. He is not afraid of sinners, does not isolate himself from them, does not fear being contaminated, accepts this togetherness, this mixing with our wounded humanity. He, who is sinless, lines up with those who go to John to confess sins.
And this fact shocks John the Baptist. Today’s passage, in fact, continues with a small discussion that takes place between John and Jesus. The Baptist, in fact, struggles to understand this strange beginning of Jesus (“It is I who need to be baptized by you, and you come to me?” Mt. 3:14). It is the same bewildered attitude of Peter in Caesarea (Mt. 16:22-23) or in the Upper Room when he initially refuses to have his feet washed (Jn 13:6,8). The Baptist, Peter and many others, ask Jesus to return to a more “normal”, more predictable logic: that logic by which the one who is greater and who is more important must receive greater honor.
But Jesus inaugurates a new world, a new style, a new justice. It is not the justice that separates, that judges, that classifies. On the contrary, it is the justice that unites, that breaks down barriers, that eliminates all that separates. And the first effect of this new order of things is that the heavens open: we could say that the gesture of Jesus, who breaks the distance that separates Him from sinners, responds to the gesture of the Father, who opens the heavens, which cancels the separation between man and God (“And behold, the heavens were opened for him”, Mt. 3:16).
So, as soon as this gesture is made, something happens that takes us back to the beginnings of creation, when the world, in its beauty, emerged from the Creator’s hands. Here too, as then, the Spirit descends on earth and comes to Jesus (Mt 3:16), to the new man (“And he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming over him” Mt. 3:16).
Who is this new man? What does he live on?
The Gospel gives us two answers.
He is the one who receives the Spirit, that is, the one who lives by the very life of God, by His breath. The one who contemplates the open skies, who looks up, who lives on God.
And it is the one who lives a relationship of sonship and love with God: while Jesus comes out of the Jordan, in fact, the voice of the Father is heard, indicating Jesus as His Son, the beloved, in whom He placed his pleasure (“This is my beloved Son: in whom I am well-pleased” Mt 3:17). The new man, therefore, is he who receives life as a son receives it from his father; and who lives constantly on this love, and on nothing else.
The new man is the one who does not establish his life on honors and powers but only on the love of the Father, who draws him out of the waters of death to give him his endless life. This is new justice, the new order of the world: that everyone is safe, that everyone lives this life, and not another.
It is what Jesus begins to do with this gesture, at the Jordan, being baptized by John.
And this is what He will continue to do on his way, to the end, on the cross, when the justice that has been inaugurated today will be accomplished.