The Baptism of Christ, El Greco, painted 1608-28
Readings (New American Bible)
Gospel Matthew 3:13-17
Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan
to be baptized by him.
John tried to prevent him, saying,
“I need to be baptized by you,
and yet you are coming to me?”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us
to fulfill all righteousness.”
Then he allowed him.
After Jesus was baptized,
he came up from the water and behold,
the heavens were opened for him,
and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove
and coming upon him.
And a voice came from the heavens, saying,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
El Greco painted the Baptism of Christ a number of times. In the painting above he shows Jesus kneeling before his cousin St John the Baptist with nothing, just as John had nothing. Both were totally open to the will of God the Father.
Though it’s not expressed in this painting, for me one of the most astonishing realities in this scene is that Jesus lined up with everyone else, all of whom were sinners. All those present, except John, would have presumed that Jesus was just another sinner like themselves. This shows the extent of God’s love for us as sinners, that God who became Man, Jesus, allowed himself to be seen as a sinner.
It is here that God the Father proclaims ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’. The Father uses the very same words at the Transfiguration, with the words ‘listen to him’ added (Mt 17:5). In the latter Peter, James and John the Apostle had caught a glimpse of the reality that Jesus is God. At the baptism the people saw someone they presumed to be a sinner.
A former chief of the Irish police lives near my brother. I remember when he held that position he used to stand outside the parish church after all the Masses on one Sunday of the month with other members of the St Vincent de Paul Society collecting money to help the poor. There was nothing to indicate who he was or the very important position he held. I was always struck by that and that he and his family lived in an ordinary house just like everyone else.
The fact that Jesus identified himself, in effect, as a sinner, shows that God is not ashamed of us despite our sins. He identifies himself with us even though he is pure love, utter sinlessness.
And just as God the Father proclaims Jesus as his ‘beloved Son’ at his baptism, he does the same with us at our baptism which, unlike the baptism of John, makes us God’s very own sons and daughters, brothers and sisters of Jesus and therefore brothers and sisters of one another. This is our deepest identity.