Commented Bible Passages

These Bible meditations are meant as a way of seeking God in silence and prayer in the midst of our daily life. During the course of a day, take a moment to read the Bible passage with the short commentary and to reflect on the questions which follow. Afterwards, a small group of 3 to 10 people can meet to share what they have discovered and perhaps for a time of prayer.

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Matthew 3:13-17: A Lasting Joy
Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
(Matthew 3:13-17)

Why does Jesus go to be baptized? Why, at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, does Jesus go to John at the Jordan in order to perform a gesture so exceptional for the Judaism of his time? For us, meditating on this text brings up yet another challenge. We are influenced by what baptism means to us: it is a sacrament, a sign of incorporation into the Church. The reading of this Gospel story places us in another context: Jesus appears in public for the first time, he stands in line, he receives this ritual gesture and, above all, his identity is made manifest.

This story allows for a meditation on three levels. First of all, we can seek to place ourselves within the scene. There is an atmosphere, a context that surrounds this story: The people of Jerusalem, of all Judea and of the whole region around the river Jordan came to him. They publicly acknowledged their sins and John baptized them (Matthew 3:5-6). Jesus is part of this penitent crowd seeking a renewal of their faith. We can even say: Jesus is almost hidden among all those who are on a spiritual quest. But John knows who Jesus is, he cannot pretend to see him as an ordinary person. There is a tension here: John recognizes a superiority in Jesus, but Jesus has another intention.

Secondly, we can use our imaginations to ask ourselves: how did Jesus feel about this event in his early adult life? In discovering his own identity, did he need to perform a sign of penance? Without giving an answer to this question, Jesus rejects a privileged treatment by John. Jesus’ intention is to do what God asks; he does not want any privileges. He asks John to wait, because he knows that time will contain and reveal the truth.

The third level of reflection is given by God’s intervention at the end of the story: This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Without succeeding in remaining anonymous, Jesus receives through these words a confirmation of his mission and his identity. Matthew’s account does not indicate who witnessed this gesture and, unlike the other gospels, the reactions of the crowd are not mentioned. It is as if the account suggests that the most important thing is that Jesus himself heard these words of God: you are my joy. These words are first of all an encouragement, but more profoundly a definition of Jesus’ mission: to proclaim joy (cf. Matthew 5:3-12), to give to all who believe in him a joy that remains (cf. John 16:22).

The baptism of Jesus has inspired the practice of baptism since the beginning of Christianity. And even though today’s situations are very different, this inspiration includes God’s promise to give joy to all who seek it. Deciding to make a change in one’s life, or even starting a new project, are opportunities to rediscover the desire for a lasting joy and to allow ourselves to be touched by the intention of Jesus, who comes in the midst of the multitude of all who seek renewal.

- What does trusting in God have to do with joy for me?

- In my daily life, have I experienced a need for renewal, a need to take a step that allows a new beginning?

- In this event, God gives Jesus a clearer sense of his identity: how does God help us understand who we are?

Other bible meditations:

Last updated: 1 April 2023