3. The Baptism of Jesus
The Public Life of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, Vol. 1 by Bishop Alban Goodier, SJ;
It is at this moment, and in the midst of circumstances such as these, that Jesus at length makes His appearance. There is no great disturbance, neither Nazareth nor Judaea notice it. It is the late season of the year, when the countryside is bare and work in the fields is less pressing. It is on the occasion of some festival, it may have been the feast of Tabernacles in October, when numbers make towards the Holy City. The news concerning John and his baptism has reached as far as Galilee, and a carpenter living at the upper end of Nazareth, with others who have long 'waited for the consolation of Israel,' goes up by the ordinary route that runs alongside the Jordan, crossing the river into Judaea at the ford where John is preaching and baptizing. Like the rest of the band of pilgrims He stops at the ford to listen to the earnest preacher; like others who have come well-disposed, when the preaching is over, He draws nearer and adjusts His clothing to take the step which is proof of a sinner's submission. He waits till all the rest are baptized, yielding to the eager throng that presses forward, Himself easily unnoticed and pushed aside; then, the very last in the group of penitents that day, He Himself walks into the
This is the simple matter of fact as the evangelists give it to us. There is not, and obviously during the last eighteen years there has not been, the least indication that Jesus of Nazareth is anything more than any of the men standing round Him. Even John on a later occasion declares that at first he did not know Him Who He was; for that even he required a direct revelation from above.
'And John gave testimony saying I saw the Spirit
Coming down as a dove from Heaven
And He remained upon Him
And I knew Him not
But He who sent me to baptize in water said to me
He upon Whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending
He it is
That baptizeth with the Holy Ghost
And I saw
And I gave testimony
That this is the Son of God.'
---John i, 32-34.
Still, already before the revelation was given, naturally, Instinctively, John stayed his hand; he hesitated to baptize. Though he knew not all that Jesus was, yet as a relative he knew Him. He knew the story of His birth, so intimately connected with his own he knew what his own mother had said of Him; if before he was born he had leaped for joy at His coming, now when they met he could not fail to be stirred. Whoever Jesus was, John knew He was no sinner, ad this baptism was not for such as He; whoever He was, by comparison with Him John himself could scarcely be called clean. Was His coming then a sign that it was time or him to yield, and allow this better man to take his place? He stayed his arm; he made a sign of protest; for a moment he held Jesus back.
'But John stayed Him saying
I ought to be Baptized by Thee
And comest Thou to me?'
The answer of Jesus confirmed the recognition; it was the answer of one man to another whom He knew and who knew Him. It was also an answer of command; Jesus did not hide from John that He understood, and accepted the honour done to Him. Though He submits, yet is He the Master; it is the same Jesus, acting in precisely the same way as the Jesus of eighteen years before in the Temple, Master of His Mother and Joseph, yet afterwards in all things 'subject to them.' Though He stands there in the stream to be baptized, yet the baptism is not given without His order; it is the same Jesus as, three years later, was the Jesus of Calvary Who submitted unto deatht yet laid down His life when and as He chose and in no other way.
Thus though the words He speaks are those of complete subjection, nevertheless there is in them the authority and firmness of one Who had a mission to fulfilf and Who knew exactly all that it included; before the Spirit came upon Him Jesus knew.
'And Jesus answering said to him
Suffer it to be so now
For so it becomes us to fulfill all justice.'
There was nothing more to be said or done. Submissively the meek John baptized the meek, submissive Jesus; Jesus had indeed begun at the very beginning. The crowd, already baptized, was threading its way homeward; the few that remained noticed nothing strange; it would seem that what then happened was known alone to John and Jesus. He came up out of the water; for a moment He stood upon the bank absorbed in prayer; while He prayed, with His eyes raised upward, a common attitude as we shall often see:
'Lo! He saw the heavens opened to Him
And He saw the Spirit of God
Descending in a bodily shape as a dove
And coming and remaining upon Him
And behold there came a voice from Heaven saying
This is My beloved Son
In Whom I am well pleased
Thou art My beloved Son
In Thee I am well pleased.'
When we read separately the three accounts of the baptism of Jesus, it seems manifest that, to each of the evangelists the chief part of the story the 'voice from Heaven' and the witness that it gave. Next it would seem the mere construction of the sentences, more especially the narrative of S. Luke, that the coming of Jesus of His Own accord to be baptized, and the humiliation of baptism, are looked upon as preludes to this; the first public act of self-abasement being followed by the first solemn declaration by the Father, the formal acceptancc the Sonship of Man, with all its sin to be atoned for, be rewarded by acknowledgement as the Son of God; true Man, with the consequent burthen, true God, with consequent right.
'He hath humbled Himself
Therefore hath God exalted Him'.
This would seem to be the meaning of the mystery, ... the 'voice from Heaven' compels us to link up this scene with that other scene later when the same 'voice from Heaven' uttered the same words, the Transfiguration. As then vision and the voice were confined to three, so now are they confined to one; as then they were given to confirm three in the faith they had already professed, so now would seem they were permitted to confirm and enlighten the Baptist. It was the sign that he looked for, henceforth he knew; and it was meet that he should know, both a reward for his fidelity and as a guide through what was now to come.
But for the rest all was darkness. The people were given to see nothing; they were to discover for themselves other signs as time went on, or not at all. From the beginning to the end Jesus would thrust Himself on no one, would give such signs as, if men chose, they could question and reject; He would come to them as one of themselves and they should come to Him in response. He would have their willing faith only, their spontaneous allegiance only, the more free, the more their own, the better. That this might be engendered and developed He would bide His time, He would go ever so slowly, He would endure unceasing disappointment, endless misunderstanding; He would even submit to the failure of many if only in the end He could win true faith and love and trust and glad allegiance from a few. If we forget this feature of the character of Jesus we lose the key to many mysteries.