Monday, 13 January 2014

Jesus was baptized, why?

For those fathers who are hockey players they remember moments like when their child first puts on skates and they state around the rink holding their hand. For those fathers who are car guys they remember things like when their child first helps them change the oil. For me as a priest I remember reading a children’s Bible with my oldest son Zander, who was 3 or 4 at the time. We just read about Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist and Zander turned to me and asked why Jesus had to be baptized if he didn’t have sin. It is a question that rolls around in the minds of all those who have spent any time really considering Jesus’ baptism.  Those who have considered it over the years have given us a few responses.

Jesus was baptized to continue his work of incarnation. The mission of the Son of God was to become one of us so that he could lift us out of our sin into a greater relationship with God. Jesus couldn’t do that from the sidelines. He had to get into the mess of humanity with us.

It is a bit like a team shaving their heads to support a teammate that has cancer. Only one of them really has cancer and has lost their hair, but out of solidarity, to let that one person know they aren’t in this alone the team shaves their heads. Jesus’ Baptism is a bit like that. John’s baptism was about repentance and the desire to lead a life of renewed commitment to God. Jesus’ baptism shows us that we are not alone in our repenting, or in our attempt to commit ourselves to God. He is there with us. He’s not on the sidelines, he is in the water with us. Walking with us side by side. Just as the son of God took on human flesh when he was born, so now Jesus joins humanity in its struggle to be free from sin that enslaves us and keeps us from a joyful relationship with God.
So for those who worry that they can’t do it on their own Jesus assures us that in our repentance we are not alone, but he also gives us an example to follow. For those who might think they don’t need to be baptized, if Jesus is baptized, how can any of us say that we don’t need to be? He is our example. If we are to follow him we need to be baptized. If he is our image of the life we strive to have, then his baptism shows us clearly that baptism is a step in our journey. Right from the beginning of his ministry he show us that following him means a life of repentance and humility. It means living a baptized life. And that is not a life of depression, or low self-esteem.  It is a life of honesty- where we see ourselves clearly.
Humanity is in continuous need of repentance. We will not be able to correct our mistakes and take on a new life until we clearly see what we have done wrong and repent. Jesus walks into the baptismal water as one of us. He walks into the waters and is baptized as a representative of the people of Israel to repent of her sins. He walks into the water and reenacts leaving slavery in Egypt to enter the wilderness on the way to the Promised land. 
The author C.S. Lewis says there is a bit of a paradox to repentance. Only a bad person needs to repent. The more bad one is, however, the less able a person is able to do it well. A person that is filled with pride, anger, and self-righteousness cannot repent well, if at all. You might notice this about yourself during the confession. How often do you feel like you are really confessing? How often does it seem like just words and going through the motions?  So the more a person needs to do it, the less they are actually able to do it. A good person is able to repent well, and only a perfect person can repent perfectly, but a perfect person is not in need of repenting. In a sense this is what Jesus has done for us. He, in his baptism, has repented on our behalf. He has done perfectly, what we cannot do well because of our sin. In our sin, we bumble through our repentance, we half-heartedly declare our sin. Sometimes we bring to mind real, deep sins that we wish to be free from. That sin floats in the baptismal water. We wash it off in repentance as imperfect as it is and Jesus, as he repents on our behalf and comes out of the water, picks up our sin. It sticks to him as he leaves the water. He has identified himself with our sin. He has made our sin his to deal with.       
But there is also something else going on in Jesus’ baptism. John’s baptism isn’t just concerned with personal sin. John is concerned with repenting from the sinful reality of the world- All the ways of the world that are not the way they were meant to be. In Baptism we repent of the brokenness that leads to oppression and war and cruelty and arrogance. We turn away from an empire of greed and corruption that is willing to crush the vulnerable in its selfishness. John’s baptism is about preparing the way for a new reality- a new kingdom. Baptism is about entry into this new reality where the highest values are not the values of the cruel empire. The highest values are of God’s kingdom, which is marked by love.
And so, when Jesus is baptized we see a new reality. “As he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:16-17). When Jesus is baptized something is revealed. We see the Trinity- the Spirit is present as the dove, the Father is present in the voice, and the Son is present in the water. This is possibly when Jesus really begins to understand who he is. And it is probably the first time we get a clear picture of what is hinted at throughout scripture- the threee persons of the Trinity. 
May we, with Christ, identify with the sins of our brothers and sisters, and even with all humanity. May we say not only, "Lord, Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me", but "Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us". May we stand together in the Baptismal waters, with our Lord and Identify ourselves as one body of humanity with Christ as our head, who has perfectly repented on our behalf. And may we stand there in those waters not obsessed with what has been washed away, but transfixed by the vision of a torn-open heaven revealing a tri-personal God who loves us so much he became one of us and identified, not only with our flesh, but even with our sin. 

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