Pope Benedict XVI's New Book on Jesus
The whole of Judea and Jerusalem were making the pilgrimage to be baptized, as we just heard. But now something new happens: “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan” (Mk 1:9). So far, nothing has been said about pilgrims from Galilee; the action seemed limited to the region of Judea. But the real novelty here is not the fact that Jesus comes from another geographical area, from a distant country, as it were. The real novelty is the fact that he—Jesus—wants to be baptized, that he blends into the gray mass of sinners waiting on the banks of the Jordan. We have just heard that the confession of sins is a component of Baptism. Baptism itself was a confession of sins and the attempt to put off an old, failed life and to receive a new one. Is that something Jesus could do? How could he confess sins? How could he separate himself from his previous life in order to start a new one? This is a question that Christians could not avoid asking. The dispute between the Baptist and Jesus that Matthew recounts for us was also an expression of the early Christians’ own question to Jesus: “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Mt 3:14). Matthew goes on to report for us that “Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented.” (Mt 3:15).
. . .
The act of descending into the waters of this Baptism implies a confession of guilt and a plea for forgiveness in order to make a new beginning. In a world marked by sin, then, this Yes to the entire will of God also expresses solidarity with men, who have incurred guilt but yearn for righteousness. The significance of this event could not fully emerge until it was seen in light of the Cross and Resurrection. Descending into the water, the candidates for Baptism confess their sin and seek to be rid of their burden of guilt. What did Jesus do in this same situation? Luke, who throughout his Gospel is keenly attentive to Jesus’ prayer, and portrays him again and again at prayer—in conversation with the Father—tells us that Jesus was praying while he received Baptism (cf. Lk 3:21). Looking at the events in light of the Cross and Resurrection, the Christian people realized what happened: Jesus loaded the burden of all mankind’s guilt upon his shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan. He inaugurated his public activity by stepping into the place of sinners. His inaugural gesture is an anticipation of the Cross. He is, as it were, the true Jonah who said to the crew of the ship, “Take me and throw me into the sea” (Jon 1:12). The whole significance of Jesus’ Baptism, the fact that he bears “all righteousness,” first comes to light on the Cross: The Baptism is an acceptance of death for the sins of humanity, and the voice that calls out “This is my beloved Son” over the baptismal waters is an anticipatory reference to the Resurrection. This also explains why, in his own discourses, Jesus uses the word baptism to refer to his death (cf. Mk 10:38; Lk 12:50).
Only from this starting point can we understand Christian Baptism. Jesus’ Baptism anticipated his death on the Cross, and the heavenly voice proclaimed an anticipation of the Resurrection. These anticipations have now become reality. John’s baptism with water has received its full meaning through the Baptism of Jesus’ own life and death. To accept the invitation to be baptized now means to go to the place of Jesus’ Baptism. It is to go where he identifies himself with us and to receive there our identification with him. The point where he anticipates death has now become the point where we anticipate rising again with him. Paul develops this inner connection in his theology of Baptism (cf. Rom 6), though without explicitly mentioning Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan.
Read it all.