V. Chapter One of Jesus of Nazareth examines the Baptism of Jesus. Luke is very specific about time references in history, such as “during the reign of Caesar Augustus” and “Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea” and “in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiphas.” All of these emphasize that Jesus’ activity does not take place in some mythical timeless “anytime”; this is as solidly real as any other historical event. Further, the references create a context: earthly realms and the Kingdom of heaven, divided human princedoms and the one Covenant with God.
The figure of John the Baptist, too, both connects with Jewish prophecy and expectations, but yet is new: this baptism was not just a ritual washing done repeatedly, but a once-for-all gesture of conversion of life. Further, it was a preparation to follow, not John, but “the One who is coming after me.” The water symbolized both death and destruction and yet also life and rebirth, even for the Jewish people (especially linked to the crossing of the Red Sea with Moses).
Perhaps the most important point Pope Benedict highlights addresses the frequent question of why Jesus, the source of all holiness, would accept a baptism that symbolized conversion and the pursuit of holiness. At his baptism, Jesus is already entering into solidarity with sinful humanity, uniting himself with our need for redemption. “Jesus loaded the burden of all mankind’s guilt onto his shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan. He inaugurated his public activity by stepping into the place of sinners … an anticipation of the Cross. … The point where he anticipates death has now become the point where we anticipate rising again with him” (p. 18).
The Baptist’s reference to Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” also finds its place here. The phrase is a reference to the fact that the Crucifixion on Good Friday coincides in history with the day of Passover, where the blood of the Paschal lamb signifies God’s saving intervention to free the Chosen People. It is also a reference, through Isaiah’s prophecy of the Suffering Servant who was led as a sheep to the slaughter (Isaiah 53), of the Servant’s redeeming sacrifice. Already at the beginning, the whole Paschal Mystery and the promise of sharing Trinitarian life is foreshadowed and its process in the earthly life of Jesus is set in motion.