Why did Jesus submit Himself to be baptized by John? He clearly didn't need to have original sin taken away, like the rest of us; so we often hear that His baptism was meant as an example for the rest of us, to show us what to do. I have also heard that Jesus' sacred body actually sanctified the water, so that it could become capable of conferring sanctifying grace. In no explanation do we hear that it was a necessary act, or absolutely mandatory, for Jesus to be baptized.
Generally, if the story strikes us as odd, we wonder why Jesus went into the water. But this time, I was thinking about why He came out -- about what happened when He broke the surface and could breathe again.
It was only after the baptism was completed that the Heavens were opened and the voice of God the Father was heard: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. How odd, that Jesus is "introduced" to the world after the baptism, after the thing that seems out of character for a savior. Why tell us that Jesus is the Son of God as soon as He does the one thing that the Son of God doesn't really need to do? What does this tell us?
It tells us that one of the major things that Jesus does is to obey, even when He doesn't have to. He wasn't just giving us an example of being baptized, so that we would see the need to be baptized. He was giving us an example of obeying even when it wasn't mandatory, so that we would see how necessary it is for us to be open to the very idea of obeying. What happens after Jesus obeys, and submits to the baptism? It is then we see who Jesus really is -- and then He can begin His public work in the world.
As an adult in the faith, I've seen this phenomenon over and over again, so often that I'm even starting to pay attention! Here's how it happens: God gives me something to agree to. A sacrament, some doctrinal teaching, an opportunity to do some good work, or maybe even just some word that I'm supposed to listen to carefully and prayerfully.
Too often, I respond with, "But do I absolutely have to?" or "But can I get along without it?" or "Well, I'll consider it as soon as I'm completely convinced that it's what's required of me" or, like John the Baptist, "I really don't see the point to this. Are you sure?"
What happens when I respond this way? I survive. Life goes on. There's always next time. I don't become utterly cut off from the Holy Spirit.
But that is not saying a lot.
What happens, instead, when God offers me something and I respond with something more like, "Well, you are God, so maybe I should look into this." I'm talking about things like going to confession when I don't absolutely need to, or saying some prayer which doesn't immediately appeal to me, or looking more deeply into some teaching of the Church that makes me feel uncomfortable, and which I'm reluctant to think about. Or stopping to consider the non-infallible words of a saint or pope, even though ignoring won't automatically excommunicate me. What happens, in other words, when I approach God with an open heart, rather than a challenge or a sulk?
When I hold my breath for a moment, and duck under the water, what happens when I come up for air?
More often than not, I see Jesus. I hear, "This is my beloved Son." Maybe the sky doesn't open up, and maybe no doves descend, but these are the moments of clarity; these are the moments of recognition, when I remember, "Oh, the son of God! The beloved one. Yes, please! More of You. Of course, less of everything else, and please, more of You."
Obedience doesn't limit us. Obedience makes the sky open. Obedience is what gives us Jesus.