Jesus & John the Baptist

Today we recall: Jesus came to the waters of baptism. In baptism, our Creator claims us

and frees us from the power of hatred and death. In baptism we are joined to Christ

and we are joined together in unity, recalling: “There is no longer Jew or Greek there is no longer slave or free there is no longer male or female for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” In baptism, the Spirit of God anoints us for ministry and makes us signs of divine love. Therefore on this day, the whole church, the Body of Christ, remembers and celebrates. Let us worship God! [Source: Worship Ways]


Luke 3:15-22 (NRSV): 15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19 But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added to them all by shutting up John in prison. 21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

Matthew 3:13-17 (NRSV): 13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just 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. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

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Many questions surround Jesus' baptism, such as, what’s up with Jesus and John? In Matthew’s Gospel, John says to Jesus just before the baptism, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John recognizes that Jesus is more powerful, so Jesus should baptize him. But, Jesus insists that John baptize him, “for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” But how did Jesus’ baptism “fulfill all righteousness”? [*Source 1]


Before we delve into that question, let's explore the setting of the baptism story a little. Since it is Year C in the lectionary cycle which is the year year of the Gospel of Luke, our lectionary reading comes from Luke 3:15-17; and 21-22. But it is always a helpful exercise to dust off one’s Gospel Parallels when it comes to a story that appears in all four Gospels. A comparison of the versions of Jesus’ baptism will yield several differences in Luke’s account. Moreover, the baptism of Jesus in Luke points to a major theme for the Gospel, but also for Epiphany -- what happens when what is revealed is not what people actually want and even reject? In reviewing verses 18-20 of the Luke scriptures which the lectionary omits in today's reading but I included above, we notice that John the Baptist is nowhere to be found. In fact in Luke 3:18-20, we learn that John the Baptist was in prison and not at the Jordan River with Jesus. Obviously, since John is locked up in prison, he is not present at the baptism of Jesus nor does he baptize Jesus. So, who did baptize Jesus? Nonetheless, Jesus is baptized and both accounts agree on God recognizing Jesus as being the anointed one. [*Source 2]


John being imprisoned foreshadows Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth. John has told Herod the truth about his life. Herod doesn’t like the truth and gets rid of the evidence. How do we do the same? The baptism of our Lord also serves as a transition of focus in the scriptures. While John had a major role in the first chapters of the Gospel, including the story of his mother and father, his birth, his relationship to Jesus, now that Jesus will be baptized, it’s just Jesus, and there will be no confusing the two. [*Source 2]


"After Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit led him into the desert to be tempted. The devil tempted him with power and prestige. We usually think that Jesus was first tempted in the desert. But Jesus was tempted before the desert. He was tempted at his baptism. John was humble when he asked Jesus to baptize him. But it was a humility that sought to elevate Jesus to a position of power over John. He told people, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming … His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear the threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” There are many interpretations of John’s statement. But if he thought Jesus’ “power” was associated with violence, he was sorely mistaken. Jesus resisted that kind of power and rivalry throughout his life. Jesus came to serve, not to be elevated above anyone. For Jesus, righteousness isn’t about power over and against another. Righteousness isn’t about a rivalry of defeating our opponents. Rather, righteousness is about love and service. If righteousness holds any kind of power at all, it’s a power that is with others, not against them." [*Quote from Source 1]


"Jesus’ baptism fulfilled “all righteousness” because it showed that the Son of God knew he was dependent upon others. He needed John. Not even the Son of God could live independently from his fellow human beings. He, like all of us, was inter-dependent.

The anthropologist Rene' Girad claims that we are not individuals. We are actually inter-dividuals. Openly acknowledging our inter-dividuality, or our inter-dependence, allows us to avoid rivalry and live in the spirit of love. At his baptism, Jesus modeled what this open acknowledgment of inter-dividuality looks like. And in doing so, he fulfilled all righteousness." [*Quote from Source 1]


Prayer:

Remember this week whose you are. And remember, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Go in the peace of Christ. [Worship Ways]


Sources:

  1. www.patheos.com/blogs/teachingnonviolentatonement/2017/01/whats-jesus-john-baptist

  2. www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1557

  3. www.ucc.org/worship_worship-ways

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