The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads:
The waters of the great flood
you made a sign of the waters of Baptism,
that make an end of sin and a new beginning of goodness.
You freed the children of Abraham from the slavery of Pharaoh,
bringing them dry-shod through the waters of the Red Sea,
to be an image of the people set free in Baptism.
The Old Testament event that perhaps most closely foreshadows Christian baptism is the healing of Namaan’s leprosy in 2 Kings. When Namaan, the commander of the army of Syria, contracts leprosy, his Israelite servant girl advises him to seek healing from the prophet Elisha. Elisha instructs him to wash in the river Jordan—the same river the Israelites crossed to reach the promised land, the same river in which Jesus himself would later be baptized. 2 Kings 5:14 records, “So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.”
St. Irenaeus also connects Naaman’s baptism to Christian baptism: “It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but it served as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord.”
Baptism is the Christian ritual of rescue.
It points to each believer’s union with the death and resurrection of Christ: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4 ESV).
It represents our identification as a member of the people of God, grafted into the body of Christ: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13 ESV).
It signifies the new life brought by the Holy Spirit and the washing away of sins: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38 ESV).
As children of God, we walk through the swirling waters of a fallen world on solid ground. Although faced with our sin, suffering, and even death, we are baptized into God’s promise:
Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you (Isaiah 43:1b-2a).
Wendy Powell, CDA English Chair, Theology I teacher