Background on the Gospel Reading
The baptism of Jesus is attested to in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The account that appears in Matthew is the only one to include the dialogue between Jesus and John, however. Another difference in Matthew’s presentation of this event is the announcement made by the voice from heaven, which says, “This is my beloved son . . .” In Mark and Luke, this voice addresses itself to Jesus: “You are my beloved son . . .
The baptisms that John performs prefigure Christian Baptism. John baptizes for repentance from sin. In accepting this baptism, Jesus unites himself with all sinners even though he is sinless. In Matthew’s Gospel, John the Baptist distinguishes his practice of baptism from the Baptism that the Messiah brings: “I am baptizing you with water . . . He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11).
The baptism of Jesus is another manifestation of Christ, another epiphany. Christ’s baptism inaugurates his mission. In an analogous way, our Baptism inaugurates our mission as Christians.
This Sunday marks a transition from the Christmas season to Ordinary Time. In a way, today’s feast is the high point of the Christmas season. Before Jesus’ birth, angels announced to Mary and to Joseph who Jesus would be. At his birth, the shepherds and the Magi recognize Jesus as the Messiah. At his baptism, Jesus accepts that he is God’s son and inaugurates that mission.
Gospel: Matthew 3:13-17
‘This is my Son, the Beloved’
Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptised by John . John tried to dissuade him. ‘It is I who need baptism from you’ he said ‘and yet you come to me!’ But Jesus replied, ‘Leave it like this for the time being; it is fitting that we should, in this way, do all that righteousness demands.’ At this, John gave in to him.
As soon as Jesus was baptised he came up from the water, and suddenly the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on him. And a voice spoke from heaven, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on him.’
The first sacrament one can receive in the Church, Baptism, defines our relationship with Christ. In it, we are reborn as part of his Mystical Body and gifted with the grace of God’s love. Baptism lays the foundation for every other sacrament we are to receive and inextricably links us with the Trinity.
Jesus presents himself for baptism in today’s Gospel not because He is a sinner, but to fulfill the word of God proclaimed by His prophets. He must be baptized to reveal that He is the Christ (“anointed one”)—the Spirit-endowed Servant promised by Isaiah in today’s First Reading.
His baptism marks the start of a new world, a new creation. As Isaiah prophesied, the Spirit descends upon Jesus like a dove—as the Spirit hovered over the face of the deep in the beginning (see Genesis 1:2).
As it was in the beginning, at the Jordan also the majestic voice of the Lord thunders above the waters. The Father opens the heavens and declares Jesus to be His “beloved son.”
God had long prepared the Israelites for His coming, as Peter preaches in today’s Second Reading. Jesus was anticipated in the “beloved son” given to Abraham (see Genesis 22:2, 12, 26), and in the calling of Israel as His “first-born son” (see Exodus 4:22–23). Jesus is the divine son begotten by God, the everlasting heir promised to King David (see Psalm 2:7; 2 Samuel 7:14).
He is “a covenant of the people [Israel]” and “a light to the nations,” Isaiah says. By the new covenant made in His blood (see 1 Corinthians 11:25), God has gathered the lost sheep of Israel together with whoever fears Him in every nation.
Christ has become the source from which God pours out His Spirit on Israelites and Gentiles alike (see Acts 10:45). In Baptism, all are anointed with that same Spirit, made beloved sons and daughters of God. Indeed, we are Christians—literally “anointed ones.”
We are the “sons of God” in today’s Psalm—called to give glory to His name in His temple. Let us pray that we remain faithful to our calling as His children, that our Father might call us what he calls His Son—“my beloved . . . in whom I am well pleased.”