- Isaiah 42:1-9
- Psalm 29
- Acts 10:34-43
- Matthew 3:13-17
Following the genealogy and birth narrative in Matthew’s Gospel, John the Baptist appears, proclaiming a message of repentance. Now “Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him” (Matthew 3:13). Although Jesus is the reason for everything that has happened thus far in Matthew’s Gospel, this is the first time that Jesus himself plays an active role in the narrative.
Matthew’s account closely follows that written in Mark’s Gospel (1:9-11), but includes an exchange between John and Jesus that does not occur in the other gospels. John has been preaching repentance when Jesus appears before him to receive his baptism from John. John’s first reaction is to refuse him: “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
Jesus’ response is his first words spoken in Matthew’s Gospel: “It is proper for us in this way to fulfill righteousness” (v. 15). So continues Matthew’s focus on important themes of fulfillment and righteousness. By allowing himself to be baptized by John, Jesus claims for himself the sinfulness of Israel, just as he will claim the sinfulness of the world at his crucifixion.
The words of calling and anointing for ministry heard in connection with Jesus’ baptism are the words that frame the church’s understanding of the ministry of all the baptized today: “You are my … Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Jesus emerges from the water with a dramatic and powerful new sense of affirmation and self-understanding. Matthew describes a visible event as well: The Spirit of God descends like a dove (for rabbis, a symbol of Israel) and plainly identifies Jesus as the Messiah, “beloved” (meaning also “chosen one”).
Matthew makes it clear that these are not the personal call of a prophet for Jesus alone to hear; this is a public pronouncement of who Jesus is as he begins his ministry in the Spirit. The radical nature of our calling is to bring justice and to serve the cause of right, to be part of God’s own mission of liberating the suffering, the oppressed, and the hungry.
- Imagine that you are a witness to the Baptism of Jesus by John. How would you describe what happened? How would you describe what happened? What do you think John and Jesus might have thought and felt during this momentous encounter?
- Why do you think Jesus intentionally sought out John in order to be baptized by him at this time? Why do you think John was initially reluctant to baptize Jesus, but finally consented?
- What is the impact of the appearance of the Dove and the heavenly voice in Matthew 3:16-71? How is the Spirit, as represented here by the Dove, present at every baptism?
- Repentance involves a change of direction. Of what do we need to repent in the Church today? What new directions would lead us into deeper understanding of Jesus the Messiah? In your own life, where do you need to change direction?
Image: Baptism of Christ Pietro Perugino (1510)