The Baptism of Jesus
The Holy Father begins his Jesus of Nazareth with a logical initial step—the baptism of Christ. This is when the life of Christ becomes public, and history begins recording His actions. There are a few different accounts of the baptism and different settings in history. Benedict examines each and explains each of their importance. Matthew, for example, by his lineage of Jesus, shows that Jesus is the inheritor of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, fulfilling the promises to each and prophesy regarding them. Luke the Evangelist makes a point to emphasize the connection with man and God in his genealogy. When Luke refers to Adam, he emphasizes the special relationship which our first father shared with God, being the “son of God.” This emphasizes the relationship which Jesus shares as son of [...] Adam, Son of God. This emphasizes Jesus' relationship with God as divine, but also as Man, suggesting that as such, we share in the same humanity and thus possibly the same destiny.
Here the Pope switches gears slightly toward John the Baptizer and his own references in history, again, helping to establish a solid time-frame for his existence and for Jesus'. This case for the “historical Jesus” is made even more firm when He and John the Baptizer are recorded in the times of particular emperors and high-priests. In regards to these earthly leaders, the Pope makes an interesting distinction, pointing out that the emperor and Jesus belong to two different realities, distinct, but not mutually exclusive. Here we see the potential for struggle between the earthly and the divine, though preempted by Christ in his dictum “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and undo God that which is His” (Mk 12:17). John's role is, therefore, to prepare the path for Jesus who will come and bridge these two divergent realities.
John's mission echoes precisely that foretold in the prophets. And John's actions prefigure the saving actions of Christ. He baptizes, a sort-of death, and hears the confessions of all who come to him in the river Jordan. The Pope here begins to examine why it is that Jesus would do as all of Judea and come to John, a lesser man, for baptism and confession, when we understand that Christ was without sin to begin with. Benedict wonders here if Jesus could actually do as the rest of John's followers and put off his old life, and put on a new one. Now things really pick up in lesson, and we see that Jesus is trying to emphasize righteousness, which is necessary for salvation. Instead of descending into the waters of the Jordan and confessing His own sins, and putting on a new life for himself, which was utterly unnecessary and impossible for Him-who-is-Blameless, Jesus begins his public life with the symbolic action of how he would end it. His going down into the water is an assimilation of His humanity with the plight of humanity as a whole. The waters of Jesus' baptism are representative, as they are for us, of the tomb and the deep, Sheol. Were we to descend without Him we would be lost forever but in His descent and return the gates of Hell are flung open and He contends with Satan, and all that manipulate us, in order to free us. In this light, it only makes sense to baptize a person as soon as possible that they might share in the victory which Christ won for us in His baptism and eventual death.
Just as we witness Jesus’ communion with God and his commission at His baptism, we begin our life with God in the same way at ours. Jesus is Wholly Other, as Benedict says, and yet wholly contemporary of us, and through that, we can become Christian, and give our lives unto God.
The Baptism of Jesus