The Baptism of Jesus

It's always been a bit of a puzzle within the Christian tradition about why the sinless Jesus submitted to John the Baptist's baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin.

In the Orthodox tradition especially, the answer has been that in the Incarnation God united with sinful human flesh. Thus, what Jesus carried down into the baptismal waters was the sin-bearing flesh of all of humanity, which was then cleansed in the Jordan.

In short, Jesus baptized us--all of humanity--in the Jordan.

This idea is beautifully captured in an ancient baptismal homily by Narsai, from the fifth century. Jesus speaking of his baptism:
Let it be so! I am being baptized as one deficient and in need of mercy,
so that I may fill up in my person what is lacking in the human race.
From the same race that has succumbed to sin I am also.
Let it be so! I am paying for the bond that Adam wrote in Eden.
From the same clay that passions have overwhelmed is my structure.
Let it be so! I am heating our weak clay in the water of the Spirit.
I am from the same lineage that death has swallowed and defrauded of its life.
Let it be so! I am descending in mystery into the water and raising it up.
I am a member of the race that is captive to the evil one of its own accord.
I will go forth to bring back our captive race from the rebel.
A bond of death my forefathers wrote out and succumbed to sin;
and I have made an agreement that I will pay for it in mystery first of all...
If I do not scour away bodily filth in my own person, the body will not be purified;
And if it does not descend with me to baptism, it will not receive pardon.

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