Jesus approaches the Jordan River to receive the baptism of John. John sees him for who he is; “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” John has a vision, a set of eyes that recognizes who is standing before him. Thus the words, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?”
Right away, without hesitation, John tells Jesus that he, the Lord, has it backwards. But John is not insulting when telling Jesus that this whole approach to who’s baptizing who is backwards. He doesn’t insult Jesus with his words, as would be the case in most situations where we may consider something to be backwards. You know how if we tell someone they have an understanding, a discussion, or a belief to be backwards? Such words generally mean that the topic being discussed is way off target in one person’s interpretation. Backwards generally means to be misinformed.
For example, if someone says to you, “You Catholics worship Mary. You worship those dead people you call saints. People who have died, you pray to them. You worship them by praying to them instead of praying to the resurrected Jesus, who is the one Mediator between God and man.”
I’m not sure about you, but I’ve heard these words. And part of my response has been, “Well, you have that sort of backwards. No where in Catholic theology and Catholic teaching does it say or teach that we are to worship Mary and the Saints. We worship God alone. But God in his generosity, his eternal wisdom, and his invitation to living in communion extends the role of mediating for our benefit through his Son to all the holy men and women who have been loving examples of Christ over the centuries. And this has come to us through the Holy Tradition of the Church led by the Spirit of God.”
All the intercessions we seek through the saints are prayers that those holy men and women lay at the feet of our Lord. It’s just one way of many on how God expands the presence of heaven. So, to claim that we somehow replace Jesus with his Mother or any soul in the Communion of Saints is backwards. Meaning, it is a statement that is way off the target.
But with the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan, the backward statement of John, “I need to be baptized by you, yet you are coming to me,” is not a statement that is way off target. It is a “backward” observation by John that is totally and completely true. The truth, of course, being that John and the rest of us need to be baptized by him, and in him. In the One of whom it is spoken, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
So why does Jesus allow for his own baptism to proceed with John doing the dunking? It’s done for the reasons that we need to be baptized into the One who is dunked…into the river. Our baptism into Christ is in essence the first form of worship – true worship – that occurs in our lives. The issue for many of us is that we don’t recall our own baptism because we were infants. If you were baptized as an infant and you can remember it, then you’re memory is the best one I’ve ever heard of! Our parents brought us to the Jordan River of the Church, we had cold water poured over our heads three times – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and we were brought back home where we were fed, our diapers changed, and all the adults celebrated. Some too much.
But with our parents presenting us for the sacrament, which is not dependent upon our memory for validity, but rather upon trust, trusting that this event really happened to us, in the moment of the sacrament’s reception at the font our souls were forever united to our Savior. For all who are baptized at whatever age, it was our first true form of worship. Our parents knew exactly what they were doing. They introduced us to our Creator and Savior, and taught us Christian values over the years, which is the awesome responsibility they take on at the baptism of their children.
This first form of worship is a sacramental act that opens the door to our worship of God alone. This truth is dripping all over the words of John the Baptist. John’s admission of needing to be baptized by Jesus, and not the other way around, are backward words of truth that enlightens us with the spiritual insight that all praise, glory, and worship belong to God alone. And that all other worship is in fact backwards, meaning wayward, where false worship is lived.
Also, the acceptance on our part of John’s words to Jesus being the good sort of backwards result in the good choices of Christianity as we grow in age, wisdom, and grace. As some folks age today, they leave behind wisdom and grace. They become defined by their politics. Or by their sexual preference. Or by their material goods. Those who do so reject their own baptism into Christ, tossing aside the words of John the Baptist. However, what begins as our first true act of worship in baptism is meant to grow into, well, Mary and the Saints. All those sub-intercessors who worship and pray to Jesus on our behalf, and do so in perfect communion with the Lord. They have a perfect relationship with God in heaven.
The good choices of Christianity are first lived in our imitation of Christ, and then those who followed him with obedience and love. In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter speaks in the house of Cornelius the words, “He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” These words are our baptism as adults who are spiritually mature and devoted to living in our families a life for Christ. Doing good and praying for the healing of those who suffer in any way, including ourselves, is how we bring those good backward words of John alive. Doing good and praying for healing is baptism growing old and wise.
Just as Jesus grew in his baptism to become the Suffering Servant, we too are never to remain stagnant in our first form of true worship. Grow in deeds. Grow in prayer. By doing so, we grow in faith, until we arrive at that place where others may seek our intercession in the presence of our Lord beyond the Pearly Gates.