Lectionary Reflection: Matthew 3:13-17: The Dilemma

There is much to say about the baptism of Jesus.  There is much to say about baptism.  I am sure I will, later.  For this little post I want to say something about the dilemma presented in the whole idea of the baptism of Jesus.  Why did it matter?

You see, John’s baptism was a baptism for repentance of sin, not inclusion in the community.  John was a Jew and the people that came to be baptized by him were Jews.  They were already part of the community.  The opportunity to be cleansed from sin called to people.  They all went out to the Jordan, even Jesus, but why?

In part, the answer is found in his humanity.  Jesus shared in everything like us but was without sin, we are told.  That suggests he was righteous in all that he said and did.  Okay, we have always understood that.  But here, Jesus himself gives us a clue.  He was not only righteous, he came to fulfill all righteousness. 

Nothing needed fulfilling more than the promise that we all would be cleansed from our sins once and for all, permanently.  This is why he bore our sins in his body on the cross so that we might be dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ.  But first he came to be one of us until that time was fulfilled.  Thus he was a participant in every human way through his baptism by John, through his temptation, and in every way.

Still, some ask why he needed the baptism.  If he was without sin, why did he submit to the baptism of repentance from sin?  To understand that, we need to understand what sin is.

Sin is not simply an act of commission or omission.  It is not just a matter of breaking some moral code.  Sin is an all encompassing, all pervasive element in this broken world in which we live.  There is no escaping it.  This is why all creation groans, awaiting the redemption.  Sin, in this life is inescapable.  But we are like fish, unaware of the water in which we live.  Every fibre of our being and of everything in this world is filled with sin, but we are too close to see it.  And Jesus was fully human, the confession says.  Thus every cell in his body was an expression of the same brokenness that fills our lives.

It is true, that we are like fish in water.  We cannot see the sin in which we dwell.  About the best we can do is show those ways in which sin is expressed; like symptoms of a disease awaiting the cure. 

There are tears and sorrow and hurt feelings and grief.  There is pain and trouble and strife.  No one is perfect, truly.  And there are too many times we are faced with a bad choice or a worse choice.  Relationships, even the strongest bonds, are fragile and easily broken.  There are wars and diseases.  There is hatred, hunger, want and fear.  And then there is the ultimate proof that all things are broken and corrupted.  Nothing lasts forever.  Even the mountains are turning to dust, and we die.  We all die.

All of this is the result of sin, and Jesus was unavoidably smack-dab in the middle of it all.  He was touched daily by sin, as we all are, and no doubt felt the resonance of it deep within his own life.  It is written that he did all things well and though tempted in every way as we are, he was without sin.  Quite true, that he lived free of the taint of acts of commission or omission.  But he knew what sin was.  It was in him as in us and all things of this world. 

You see?  He needed John’s baptism even as we need to be baptized, and he also knew exactly what he was doing when he took the sins of the world on his shoulders.  He knew exactly what sin was and because he understood perfectly, the whole world might be saved through him.


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