Dear My Brothers and Sisters In Christ,
Why did Jesus step into the Jordan River to be baptized by John?
John the Baptist had the same question in mind when he saw Jesus step down into the water. Matthew says that when Jesus presented himself for baptism, John tried to make him change his mind. “I ought to be baptized by you.” John said, “and yet you have come to me!” Matthew 3:14. Why, then, did Jesus step into the Jordan River to be baptized by John? For John had made it clear that his baptism was for sinners only. It was for those who had turned their back on God. If Jesus had not done this, why did he present himself for baptism?
Jesus identified himself with the human race. He became a member of a sinful world of people, a world of people of whom the psalmist said, “But they have all gone wrong; . . . Not one of them does what is right, not a single one.’’ Psalm 14:3. And that’s why Jesus stepped into the river to be baptized by John. It was not because He, personally, was a sinner and needed conversion. Rather, it was because he was a member of the sinful human race, which needed conversion. It was for this reason that Jesus stepped into the river to be baptized.
It was to acknowledge that He had identified himself with the human race so totally that he could not stand apart from it — not even from its sins. It was to acknowledge that the human race, of which he was a part, needed to admit that it had sinned and needed conversion. This is why Jesus stepped into the Jordan to be baptized by John.
This brings us to the practical application that all this has for our personal lives. What does it say to us in the church today? First of all, it says that, like Jesus, we are all members of the human race. Second, it says that, like Jesus, we must all be responsible members of the human race. We cannot say to ourselves, “I don’t approve of some of the things the human race is doing, but I’m not responsible for them.’’
Citywide disregard of the poor to the point that basic human rights are ignored and trampled upon— this is something we can’t stand apart from. We must take responsibility for it, for we are citizens of the city. Nationwide killing the un-born babies to the point that human rights are trampled upon and the un-born babies cannot speak for themselves — this is something we can’t stand apart from. We must take responsibility for it, for we are citizens of the nation. Planetwide destruction of the environment to the point that the ozone layer of our planet is being destroyed — this is something we can’t stand apart from. We must take responsibility for it, for we are citizens of the planet.
This raises a big question. What can we, personally, do about these sins?
We can do three things at least. First, we can acknowledge that these sins and situations do exist. We can resist the temptation to bury our head in the sand and to pretend that these sins are not real or, worse yet, that they will go away by themselves. Acknowledging these sinful situations and facing up to them honestly is something we can all do — something we must do. It’s a necessary starting point. Second, we can speak out against social sins. It’s not only our right but our duty. Third, we can all pray to God for special guidance in dealing with these situations.
The example of Jesus in today’s gospel is a call to action to all of us. It’s a call to recognize that we are all members of the human race — as Jesus was. It’s a call to acknowledge our responsibility when it comes to social sins — as Jesus did. It’s a call to do something concrete, whether it be speaking out against these situations, praying for guidance, or becoming directly involved in their solution. If we, the members of Christ’s Body, don’t do something, who will?