Christianity 201

January 13, 2020

Jesus Identifies with Us in His Own Baptism

Yesterday (Sunday) was “the first Sunday of Ordinary Time” in the liturgical calendar. It kicks of with “the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus.” We read that story in Matthew 3:

NIV.Matt.3.13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

A new author, who came recommended to us is Debie Thomas (no relation to yesterday’s author) at the website Journey with Jesus. This is an excerpt from a much larger article which tells some of her personal story and again, as I often do, I strongly encourage you to click the header below and read the whole thing if you’re able.

Stepping In

…[W]hen I read the story of Jesus’s baptism in this week’s Gospel, I don’t so much see a stepping out.  I see a very intentional stepping in.  A stepping into a history, a lineage, a geography, an identity.  In receiving baptism, Jesus doesn’t set himself apart from us; he aligns himself with us.  Baptism in Matthew’s Gospel story is not about Othering. It’s about solidarity.  About joining.

On the day I was baptized, I had no felt sense that I was giving myself over to something larger, older, wiser, and more capacious than my own one-on-one with Christianity.  Baptism, I thought, was all about my effort, my obedience, my responsibility.  So much depended on me!  There were so many ways I could mess up! I had no idea that my “personal decision to love God,” important though it is, pales in significance to God’s cosmic decision to love me — and the whole of humanity and creation along with me.  I didn’t know that God was ushering me into a Story — a huge, sprawling Story that began eons before I showed up in my father’s study with tiny fistfuls of belief.

In other words, I didn’t know the paradoxical power of stepping in.  Of giving myself over to something deeper and more trustworthy than the shifting sands of my own opinions, creeds, and doctrines: an ancient cloud of witnesses.  A worldwide community of the faithful.  A liturgy that endures.  A created universe that whispers, laughs, and shouts God’s name from every nook and corner.

According to Christian historian John Dominic Crossan, Jesus’s baptism story was an “acute embarrassment” for the early Church, precisely because of this stepping in.  Why would God’s Messiah place himself under the tutelage of a rabble-rouser like John the Baptist?  Why would God’s incarnate Son receive a baptism of repentance?  Repentance for what?  Wasn’t he perfect? Why on earth would he wade into the murky waters of the Jordan, aligning himself with the great unwashed who teemed into the wilderness, reeking of sin?  Worse, why did God the Father choose that sordid moment to part the clouds and call his Son beloved?  A moment well before all the miracles, the healings, the exorcisms, the resurrections?  A moment long before Jesus accomplished a thing worth praising?

Why, indeed?  And yet this is the baffling, humbling, awe-inspiring story we’ve inherited as Christ’s followers. Unbelievable though it may seem, Jesus’s first public act was an act of stepping into his humanity in the fullest, most embodied way.  “Let it be so,” he told John, echoing the radical consent of his mother, Mary, who raised him in the faith.   Let it be so at the hands of another, he decided, as he submitted to John the Baptizer, because what Jesus did and still does with power is freely surrender it, share it, give it away.  Let it be so here, he said, in the Jordan River rich with sacred history.  The Jordan where once upon a time his forbears, the ancient Israelites, entered the land of Canaan.  The Jordan where the prophet Elijah ended his prophetic ministry, and his successor Elisha inaugurated his.  The Jordan which flowed under the same “opened” sky God first opened “in the beginning,” at the very dawn of Creation.

In other words, in this one moment, in this one act, Jesus stepped into the whole Story of God’s work on earth, and allowed that story to resonate, deepen, and find completion.

So.  What part of this story is hardest for you to take in?  That God appears by means so unimpressive, so familiar, we often miss him?  That Jesus enters joyfully into the full messiness of the human family?  That our baptisms bind us to all of humanity — not in theory, but in the flesh — such that you and I are kin, responsible for each other in ways we fail too often to honor?  That as Christians we are called into radical solidarity, not radical separateness?  That we are always and already God’s Beloved — not because we’ve done anything to earn it, but because God’s very nature, inclination, and desire is to love?

To embrace Christ’s baptism story is to embrace the core truth that we are united, interdependent, connected, one.  It is to sit with the staggering reality that we are deeply, deeply loved.  Can we bear to embrace these mind-bending truths without flinching away in self-consciousness, cynicism, suspicion, or shame? …

 

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