The Baptism of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew is a relatively short scripture passage – a mere five versus (Matthew 3: 13- 17), yet it offers some powerful lessons for us today.
Lesson 1: Always do the will of the Father, even when it doesn’t seem to make sense.
At first glance, the Baptism of Jesus seems like a bit of a set-up. After all, here we have the Son of God, who has no need of Baptism at all, coming to his cousin John to be baptized. John had known since he was still in his mother’s womb that his whole role in life was to prepare the way for Jesus (Luke 1:41).
John doesn’t know what to make of it. He tries to beg off. “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” Jesus insists. “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” John submits. The note in The Catholic Study Bible (New American Version) states that “to fulfill all righteousness is to submit to the plan of God for the salvation of the human race. This involves Jesus’ identification with sinners; hence the propriety of his accepting John’s baptism.”
Jesus and John were fulfilling the roles God had instructed them play. They didn’t need to know why (although Jesus probably did). They didn’t need to question. They simply needed to do. We are called to do the same.
Lesson 2: Baptism gives us the grace necessary to live the life God wants us to live.
Jesus would go on to institute a greater Baptism, one in the Spirit, which we have been privileged to receive. Yet, he was baptized by John as the first step in his public ministry.
Although purely symbolic for Jesus, it illustrates that our Baptism is the first step in our living for God. It gives us the strength and tools necessary to be what God wants us to be. Whenever we start to waiver in our belief that we can do what God asks, we can remember our Baptism and know that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are indeed with us.
Lesson 3: We all can use some encouragement
Jesus was the Son of God. He had powers at his disposal we mere humans can only dream of. Still, here at his Baptism, his Father’s voice booms from the heavens: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)
We all like to be told that someone is pleased with us. Whether it is a simple “thank you” for a service rendered or a bit of praise for something we have done well, it feels good to be acknowledged and appreciated.
We have little control over whether others demonstrate their appreciation for us, but we do have the power to encourage others. It is often easy to find fault with others. Parents especially may find themselves doing a great deal of correction. It is necessary. But, it is also necessary to offer that praise and encouragement, to point out the good in those around us. God the Father has given us a concrete example in this Gospel. We would do well to follow suit.