During this special Year of the Word: The God Who Speaks, we are going to have a regular series of reflections published on our website which will prompt us to reflect on important passages of St Matthew’s Gospel, and learn more about them. We are very grateful to Dr Natalie Watson, a contemporary theologian and writer, for offering these reflections for our community.
This passage marks another beginning in Matthew’s Gospel: the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, the first step on the way that will lead Jesus to dying on the cross and to the resurrection. On the banks of the river Jordan Jesus meets John the Baptist who has been preaching in the wilderness and calling people to repentance. Now Jesus joins the crowds who have come to be baptized by John. Only in Matthew’s Gospel do we get to witness the conversation between John and Jesus: ‘This can’t be right. I am the one who needs baptism from you,’ says John. But Jesus replies: ‘it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness’. The word ‘righteousness’ is an important one in Matthew’s Gospel. It means to do what is right in the eyes of God.
John the Baptist is God’s messenger. He preaches not about himself but about the one who will come, the one who will fulfil what God has promised to his people. John has been preaching repentance, but Jesus will bring forgiveness to all who seek him. John and Jesus do what righteousness demands, what is right before God: as Jesus baptized by John at the beginning of his way to the cross, God himself speaks and acknowledges that Jesus as the righteous one, the one who is anointed with his Spirit. ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’
Jesus, Son of the Living God, who came to be baptized by John, we thank you for our baptism, and we ask you to teach us to do what is right before God.