John has been so busy dunking people that he hasn’t noticed the next person in line. Quietly Jesus steps forward to be baptized, his head lowered. Jesus smiles shyly, perhaps with a slight wave. John stops, looks around, then leans in close to Jesus and whispers, “Ah, what are you doing here? Please don’t do this. Get out of here. I’m not doing it; I’m not baptizing you. If anything, you should be baptizing me.”
Why is Jesus here of all places? He has nothing to repent of. Why would he choose to do this? Perhaps it is that he couldn’t not do it. That’s what he’s telling John. And so, his response is tender and insistent, “Please allow it now, for in this way we will fulfill all righteousness.” Simply put, he who is Love could do no less - God wants it.
Jesus has so identified himself with all his people, that he wants to be with them, to do with them this awesome covenantal moment. He must be there, there in the water with them, with us. For he is reconciling the world to himself, not counting our transgressions against us, "since for our sakes, God has made him who did not know sin, to be sin, so that in him we might become the very holiness of God.” Romans 5
Jesus is with us in all that embarrasses and burdens us, in our regrets and our failures and our sins, in the muck and mess of it all. He goes down into it as he is immersed by John in the waters of the Jordan this morning. As he emerges, he sees the Spirit hovering, he hears the Father's confirmation. The passion of his love and desire can explain his desire for baptism, his desire to take our flesh in the first place - no distance, no separateness but total immersion and identification with us. He has come to share unreservedly in our distress now in the water, and very soon on the cross. Christ Jesus wants to be with us in all things, in all ways. Love in Person has irreversibly plunged into the dark murky waters of our humanness. And as he stands dripping wet in the Jordan River this morning, he restores to us the realization of our belovedness in him and brings back to God.
The Baptism of Christ Piero della Francesca, c. 1448-1450, Tempera on panel, 66 x 46", National Gallery, London.