Sunday, January 13, 2008

Baptism of Jesus

This year's reading about Jesus' baptism comes from Matthew. Of the three Gospels, it is my least favorite... for a number of reasons. On the other hand, it's the one we all remember because of the dialog.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented. 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 lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." —Matthew 3: 13-17

As Tom Erich said in a recent meditation: "...this isn't Jesus speaking, this is the author. Language like this isn't the language of an unlettered Jewish carpenter. Read the plain talk of the Beatitudes if you want to hear what Jesus actually sounded like. This is Matthew trying to put John the Baptist in an inferior place."

I actually posted a year ago with a new piece of artwork. Of course the point for me was partly the artwork. I'd worked hard on that particular piece... using a variety of images of the actual Jordan river to create my background. But today, our celebrant read the Gospel slowly, with a certain inflection that supported his sermon about decisions.

All discourse over whether John said this or Jesus said that was omitted. The focus was on the decision. Jesus decided to make the trip all the way from Galilee to the Jordan. No short distance in that time. He decided to be baptized by John. His cousin, and at that point, the leading contender for the heavyweight title "Messiah."

Jesus had an experience during that baptism that changed his direction. Whether the baptism itself was a symbol that he was already making this change, or whether he actually got the message then and there is not clear. But as John preached repentance, repent he did. He turned right around and went his own way. He would not be John's disciple after all. He would be his own man. God's own man.

Our celebrant asked us to think back on the decision-making moments in our own lives. He asked us to remember that those moments, no matter how magnificent at the time, are not enough; that we (like Jesus) must keep finding a way to say "yes" again and again.

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