Then, the unexpected happens. Maybe unexpected is not the right word, because John had been preparing for his coming all the way. What John did not expect was seeing Jesus go down into the water with the rest of the crowd. John being John, he wanted to prevent it. In his logic, this did not make sense. Here is the One without sin, the One who needed no repentance. Would he be giving the wrong signal to the people had John allowed Jesus to just join the crowd? Indeed, it should be the other way round! “I need to be baptized by you”, John tells Jesus, and not vice-versa!
Yet, Jesus was adamant. “Let it be”, he tells him. Trust! And then he speaks about righteousness. John knew what righteousness was. The axe is ready at the root of the tree, he had just told the people. Evil will be rooted out and burned with unquenchable fire. Yet, when Jesus begins his ministry, he shows us that even the idea of righteousness needed conversion. It’s not a matter of destruction as John had thought, but conversion - a deep change of heart.
Jesus’ going into the water was a prophetic sign which set the tone for his life’s mission. He is the One who took on himself the sins of the world. In him and through him we are all set free from the slavery of sin. Years later Paul would tell his community in Corinth, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”.
The God of Jesus Christ approves of what the Son does. The voice is loud and clear, for everybody to hear: “You are my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased”. At the baptism of Jesus God speaks, the heavens are opened. There are no more barriers between God and man. Distance between heaven and earth disappears. The God who spoke to Adam in the beginning as a friend, speaks again, with love. Reconciliation is indeed happening. God’s Spirit descends like a dove - silently, gently, as a sign of peace.
It is this same dynamics that are lived in our own baptism. It is in the God who is present in the Jordan - Father, Son and Spirit - that we are all baptized. The one-ness which had been destroyed by sin is now made whole again. As St Athanasius would bravely put it, "the Son of God became man so that we might become God”. And, together with Jesus, we too hear that wonderful voice: You are my son, my daughter, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased. If this is not enough reason for rejoicing, I don’t know what is!