“Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.
John tried to prevent him, saying,
‘l need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?’”
There is a recognition by John that Jesus does not need to be baptized. John’s baptism, a ritual cleansing with water signifying repentance for the forgiveness of sins, was not a necessity for Jesus. Jesus was sinless. So, if he didn’t need to do it, why did he? First, and this is an essential point, Jesus didn’t need to do any of the things he did. He didn’t need to be incarnate, do miracles, teach, suffer, or die. Jesus chose to do all of these things. Out of love, he did them for us. It wasn’t a need. It wasn’t for himself. It was love. It was for us. Jesus wasn’t baptized because he needed it, he was baptized because we needed it. The short answer is that Jesus was plunged in the waters of the Jordan for us. This is expressed poetically by the Eastern fathers of the Church, “I am trying to find the lost Adam, let me go down and look for him.”
To understand this more fully, there is a second important point. God exists outside of space and time. God is eternal. All time, past, present, and future, is always “now” for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are in space and time. We experience time as a progression, sequential, and aimed in one direction (or, as a theoretical possibility, as forward and backward). God is not constrained by this experience of time. To him who is eternal, each moment, which we experience as coming one after the next, is simply now. To visualize this, we can imagine a line drawn on a piece of paper representing our time. If we draw a point off of the line, we can understand that from the perspective of the point, the line can be viewed in it’s entirety, all at once, or now. From God’s perspective, all of our time is now. It is probably more accurate to say that God is the paper on which our time line is drawn, but let’s not get too complicated. To God, all of our time is now. In Greek, eternity, or God’s time, is called kairos and sequential time, or our time, is called chronos. When God enters our time, kairos and chronos intersect, or kairos penetrates chronos. Jesus incarnate, sometimes called the Christ event, is the whole of the Son entering human history. The eternal has entered time.
We can get too caught up in our sense of chronological time. God doesn’t follow the same rules. The Christ event isn’t necessarily sequential and grace isn’t confined to a moment in time. At the last supper, Jesus instituted the Eucharist, which makes present his saving action on the cross in his body and blood, but he hadn’t yet suffered, died, or risen from the dead. Kairos made present in chronos the now of Jesus’s pascal mystery. In other words, that which was yet to happen was made present before it happened because God is not constrained by our sense of time. It is the same with the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Mary was conceived without original sin by the merits of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Mary received the grace we receive at baptism at her conception. The effects of that which was yet to happen were applied to Mary before it happened because God is not constrained by chronological time. Kairos can penetrate chronos however God wills it. We normally experience this as grace which makes present now the past saving actions of God, especially in the sacraments, but God, who exists outside of our time, can enter as he wills. Our rules don’t apply. It’s all now for God.
At his baptism, Jesus sanctifies the waters of our own baptism. In his baptism, the grace of his crucifixion (which he spoke of as the baptism with which he was to be baptized, but hadn’t happened yet) makes holy the waters of baptism for all time. More than just a sign of repentance, baptism becomes the wellspring of holiness, makes an end of sin and a new beginning of goodness, sets us free, and gives us life eternal. We die and rise again. Jesus took our place, on the cross and in the waters of the Jordan. He didn’t need to, but Jesus did this for us.