This week's gospel readings about John the Baptist have me wondering about something.
Why was Jesus baptized?
At the time, gentile converts to Judaism (called proselytes) were required to take three actions in order to become equal in Jewishness to people born from Jewish mothers.
- They were circumcised (if male).
- They were baptized (after the circumcision had healed).
- They made an offering of sacrifice at the temple.
Jesus was born a Jew, and was circumcised as required by the law when he was eight days old. He had no need of the baptism that John offered in the dessert.
And so I took a look at non-baptismal Jewish customs related to the mikvah, the use of living water for purification. It turns out that it was not only used for initiation into the faith, and for restoration of ritual cleanliness after sin or exposure to what was considered unclean. It was also used for two things which I think are particularly significant.
First, it was used for the consecration of priests. Aaron and his sons were immersed as part of their ordination process. When I read this, Jesus' baptism began to make sense, given that He is -the- High Priest.
Second, living water was (and is) used for the purification of new vessels for cooking and eating. Jesus' baptism also makes sense in this context given that He is the bread of heaven, the cup of salvation, and the vessel of life for us.
I'm guessing that if I kept looking at the laws regarding the mikvah's use, I would find more examples of appropriateness.
While researching I found the following passage particularly interesting. It comes from an article on Chabad.org, called simply The Mikvah.
In many ways mikvah is the threshold separating the unholy from the holy, but it is even more. Simply put, immersion in a mikvah signals a change in status -- more correctly, an elevation in status. Its unparalleled function lies in its power of transformation, its ability to effect metamorphosis.
So I've put all of this together and have been wondering.
Did the baptism of Jesus signal the beginning of Christianity?
Was it a signal that Christ was now a new thing, a Priest, a Holy Vessel, consecrated for a new use?
And because of this, is this why He directed us to continue the practice of baptism, consecrating ourselves as He did at the very dawn of the fulfillment of the promises made throughout Jewish history?