Baptism of the Lord
Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.
This Sunday's Exposition
When Jesus comes to be baptised, there are enormous expectations upon him. The reader of Matthew’s Gospel has heard John’s description of the coming Messiah: one more powerful than him, baptising with fire and the Holy Spirit, ready to judge with wind and fire. Yet when Jesus emerges from the midst of the people, like one of them, John is obviously shocked at what he is asked to do. Jesus doesn’t even argue or explain. His response is something like, ‘Well, let it be like this for now.’ What does that mean? Simply that something is happening below the surface that John could not yet understand.
And then the heavens opened. One can well imagine John’s ‘Oh’. All the imagery of the scriptures would have flooded upon him as he watched the scene unfold: Isaiah’s plea for God to tear open the heavens (Is 64:1), the play of the Spirit upon the chaos at creation, the use of ‘Son’ echoing the Royal Psalms, ‘beloved’ echoing Isaac (Gen 22:2) and the ‘delight’ bestowed in the first Servant Song (Is 42:1).
In the light of all this, John’s expectations of the Messiah as a Judge, who would bring the people back into line following the Law of God, seem almost petty. That is not John’s fault. When it comes to the practice of faith, of religion, our best ideas and images only take us so far. When Jesus came to the Jordan, he seemed so human but then, for a brief moment, his divine origin was revealed. During the course of his ministry, the meaning of who he is for humanity is slowly unfolded, but all along the way people struggle to go beyond their own ideas of what faith and salvation should be like. Even John in prison is wracked by doubt…and he had the front row view at the Baptism. What we are called to believe is so far beyond our comprehension, we have to accept that our expectations will need to be constantly transformed as we enter more and more into the mystery of God’s love.