Monday, January 9, 2012


We can almost sense John’s resistance as suddenly he looks up and notices that his cousin Jesus is next in line for his baptism of repentance. In fact Scripture scholars tell us that this episode in the life of Jesus is among the most certain of all historical facts in the Gospel tradition. For in the light of their Resurrection faith, early Christians were most certainly very embarrassed by this memory of the One whom they believed was Messiah and Lord.

Why would he have offered himself for a cleansing baptism of repentance and conversion of heart? What on earth did Jesus have to be converted from or toward? Why would he choose to do this? The question nags even now. Was it a pious example of humility done for our sake? This does not sound right. Or was it simply that he who is Love could do no less? Perhaps only the logic of love can explain this action of Jesus or any other one of his for that matter. Love defers, love lowers itself.

Jesus wants to be there in the water with us. Love demands it. For he himself is the messenger of the covenant, the binding up between God and all humanity. For God "made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him." God is with us, in all that embarrasses and burdens us, in our regrets and our failures. Only the passion of his love can explain his desire for baptism, his desire to take our flesh. He has come to “share unreservedly” in our distress now in the water, and very soon on the cross. Love in the person of Christ has irreversibly plunged into the dark water that symbolizes our humanity- all that is wobbly, fluid and unpredictable. Jesus has immersed himself in all of it, descended into the soggy reality of it all, so that he can bring us home to the Father.

The heavens are opened, the new reality of communion between heaven and earth is proclaimed. The Father’s voice and the Spirit’s hovering declare who Jesus is, the Beloved Son who always does what the Father wants. The belovedness of Jesus is our baptismal inheritance; we too are beloved in him.

Plaque with the Baptism of Jesus, ca. 1150–75, South Netherlandish, ChamplevĂ© enamel, copper alloy, gilt, 4 x 4 x 1/8”, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.