On the first Sunday after Christmas, the Catholic Church celebrates the Baptism of the Lord in the Jordan river. It also transitions the calendar to Ordinary Time. Why was Jesus baptized?

The Story

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all describe the story. John the Baptist has a growing number of disciples in the desert, calling for repentance. His fame grows so much that even the Pharisees and Sadducees come out to see him for themselves.

Despite his popularity, he paved the way for Jesus:

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Matthew 3:11
St. John Indicating the Christ to St. Andrew by Ottavio Vannini (17th century)
St. John Indicating the Christ to St. Andrew by Ottavio Vannini (17th century)

When Jesus arrived, He surprised John by asking to be baptized. John reluctantly agreed. Once he baptized Jesus, the sky opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him “like a dove.” God the Father spoke, saying “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.

Why Was Jesus Baptized?

Jesus did not need to be baptized because He both has no sin and is already the Son of the Father. Despite this, He chose to have John baptize Him.

The early church recognizes that Jesus sanctifies the waters for the sacrament of baptism. His baptism also serves as an example for our own baptisms.
When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him. When we are baptized, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit entirely dwell within our souls. When Jesus was baptized, God the Father called Him his Beloved Son. When we are baptized, we become true sons and daughters of the Father.

The feast of the Baptism of the Lord is also the Lord’s second manifestation to the world, after the visit from the Magi. John the Baptist prepared the world for Christ’s coming, calling for the repentance of sins. Christ’s baptism fulfills John’s work and helps open the door to His public ministry.