The First Luminous Mystery: The Baptism in the Jordan
The following is the twelfth of twenty monthly reflections about the Mysteries of the Rosary as they relate to family life. The mysteries will not be necessarily chronological but presented as they interact with the liturgical year.
My wife Stephanie and I have a running joke between us. I ask her if there is anywhere she would like to go on vacation, and she quickly answers, “Somewhere with a beach.” Of course, we have found that there is a difference between the idyllic beach scene in her mind and the reality of being by water with young kids in tow. Usually, it means that Stephanie is managing “the bag,” filled with enough supplies to guide us through any number of misadventures that could be in store, and while she covers home base on the beach, I am out in the water with my aspiring but not yet functioning swimmers. Whenever someone approaches the water and is uncertain about swimming ability or the unseen terrain, our instinctive reaction is to hold out our hands in support, and this image came to me as I reflected on our rosary mystery this month.
I do not know exactly what the physical interaction between John the Baptist and Jesus looked like at Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River. We have record in the various gospel accounts of the words and happenings, but we must imagine ourselves the details of the larger scene. I imagine John, already standing in the water, reaching his hands out to Jesus as he approached. It is a reassuring gesture to prepare for the coming event, and the dialogue between the two men show how it is curious that this interplay is happening at all. After all, Jesus is certainly not in need of a baptism of repentance, and we often hear John admit that Jesus is the far greater of the two. What exactly is Jesus doing going into this water?
A myriad of reasons has emerged over the millennia as each generation considers this event, but I would like to highlight two. The first is that Jesus is showing us the way to follow. After he emerges from the baptismal waters, we can imagine that Jesus has figuratively invited each of us to follow suit, holding out his hands as we enter the water ourselves and become members of the Body of Christ. It helps to follow someone who has gone before us.
The second reason that I find important is that Jesus is already prefiguring his death on the cross. The interplay of water as both a cleansing agent and source of danger and death is present here. Baptism not only washes away our sins but also asks us to die to our former selves. Those hands of support are essential to keep the fear of drowning at bay, but the interesting thing about Jesus is that he invites us down into the water to, in a way, drown our old selves and emerge as a new person, freed from sin. The reason that baptism is effective in this way is because of Christ’s death on the cross. By submitting to baptism in the Jordan, Jesus shows that he is willing to die for us and will soon enough do so.
Just as Jesus’ life does not end with death but resurrection, our baptism does not end with death but moves to rebirth and adoption. Because Jesus first shows us the way, we have the courage to enter the water ourselves, knowing that we will never be the same and changed for the better. Even if we cannot remember the event of our baptism, we continue to affirm its meaning as we sign ourselves with holy water, renew our baptismal promises during Easter, and continue to follow Jesus in the way that we live our lives. Let us then again reach out and take Jesus’ hands. We know that in following him, we will end up where our hearts most desire to go.