I’ve read yet another book by the Jesuit Father James Martin. As I recall, he began his publishing career when he entered the seminary, writing In Good Company. His latest book is entitled simply, Jesus, a Pilgrimage. He weaves together three different experiences, a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, his own life stories, and some reflections on the Gospels.
Father Martin actually mentions the baptism of Jesus. And he asks the classic question, if Jesus is God, why does he need to be baptized? I’ve tried to answer this question myself when speaking to students or parents taking a baptism class. It’s my opinion that Jesus sets the standard or example, to fulfill all righteousness. By his actions, Christ says, “if its good enough for me, it’s good enough for everyone.”
Father Martin looks at the question from a slightly different perspective. Though I am paraphrasing, he argues, ‘Christ is a person just like us. He allows himself to be baptized in order to share in our humanity.’ I am fine with that argument, except that the culmination of Christ’s sharing in our humanity is not so much his incarnation or baptism, but rather his experience on the cross. [My argument isn’t really valid – Jesus shares in our humanity through all of the above – his birth, baptism, ministry, and passion.]
Getting back to baptism, if you look at Matthew’s Gospel, you might notice that baptism features at the beginning, middle and end of his Gospel. We talked about this last week. Jesus is baptized in near the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, in chapter three. In chapter fourteen, halfway through Matthew’s Gospel, Christ walks on water. It is a baptismal symbol to the extent that, like the Spirit hovering over the waters in the Book of Genesis, it is a transformative event. God does not merely encounter nature, God transforms nature (in the case of the Genesis account), or God takes command over nature (in the account of Christ walking on water).
A great question is whether the ministry of a disciple of Christ is rooted in baptism. In Matthew 17, Christ says,
Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.
One might think, reading this passage, or reading a passage out of context from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans or Ephesians that baptism is not necessary for discipleship. However, both Jesus Christ and Saint Paul presuppose that Christians are baptized. for instance, Paul says, For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Gal 3:27). Christ tells us, whoever believes and is baptized will be saved (Mk 16:16). In chapter twenty-eight, after his death and Resurrection, Jesus appears to the Apostles. His parting words to them are – Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit… and behold I am with you always, until the end of the age.
We are all called to follow the example of Jesus Christ – to be baptized in the name of the Triune God. it is always edifying to see members of our parish feed the poor, care for the sick, and visit those in prison. As Christians, we believe that the grace to do these things comes not just from our faith, but also from our baptism.