09 January 2010

Feast of the Baptism of Jesus

Until I can write a separate reflection for today's feast I am reposting this one from a couple of years ago. Sorry for the inconvenience! I hope everyone's Christmastide has been wonderful!

Of all the feasts we celebrate, the baptism of Jesus is the most difficult for us to understand. We are used to thinking of Baptism as a solution to original sin instead of the means of our initiation into the death and resurrection of Jesus, or our adoption as daughters and sons of God and heirs to his Kingdom, or again, as a consecration to God's very life and service. When viewed this way, and especially when we recall that John's baptism was one of repentance for sin, how do we make sense of a sinless Jesus submitting to it?

I think two points need to be made here. First, Jesus grew into his vocation. His Sonship was real and completely unique but not completely developed or historically embodied from the moment of his conception; rather it was something he embraced more and more fully over his lifetime. Secondly, his Sonship was the expression of solidarity with us and his fulfillment of the will of his Father to be God-with-us. Jesus will incarnate the Logos of God definitively in space and time, but this event we call the incarnation encompasses and is only realized fully in his life, death, and resurrection -- not in his nativity. Only in allowing himself to be completely transparent to this Word, only in "dying to self," and definitively setting aside all other possible destinies does Jesus come to fully embody and express the Logos of God in a way which expresses his solidarity with us as well.

It is probably the image of Baptism-as-consecration then which is most helpful to us in understanding Jesus' submission to John's baptism. Here the man Jesus is set apart as the one in whom God will truly "hallow his name". Here, in an act of manifest commitment, Jesus' humanity is placed completely at the service of the living God and of those to whom God is committed. Here his experience as one set apart for God establishes him as completely united with us and our human condition. And here too Jesus anticipates the death and resurrection he will suffer for the sake of both human and Divine destinies which, in him, will be reconciled and inextricably wed to one another. His baptism establishes the pattern not only of HIS humanity, but that of all authentic humanity. So too does it reveal the nature of true divinity, for our's is a God who becomes completely subject to our sinful reality in order to free us for his own entirely holy one.

I suspect that even at the end of the Christmas season we are still scandalized by the incarnation. We still stumble over the intelligibility of this baptism, and the propriety of it especially. Our inability to fathom Jesus' baptism, and our tendency to be shocked by it, just as JohnBp was probably shocked, says we are not comfortable, even now, with a God who enters exhaustively into our reality. We remain uncomfortable with a Jesus who is tempted like us in ALL THINGS, and matures into his identity as God's only begotten Son. We are puzzled by one who is holy as God is holy and, as the creed affirms, "true God of true God" and who, evenso, is consecrated to the one he calls Abba and to the service of his Kingdom and people. A God who comes to us in smallness, weakness, submission, and self-emptying is really not a God we are comfortable with --- despite three weeks of Christmas celebrations and reflections, and a prior four weeks of preparation -- is it? And perhaps this is as it should be. Perhaps the scandal attached signals to us we are getting this right theologically.

Afterall, today's feast tells us that Jesus' public ministry begins with a consecration. His public life begins with an event that prefigures his end as well. There is a real dying to self involved here, not because Jesus has a false self which must die -- as each of us has --- but because his life is placed completely and publicly at the disposal of his God, his Abba. Loving another, affirming the being of another in a way which subordinates one's own being to theirs --- putting one's own life at their disposal always entails a death of sorts -- and a kind of rising to new life as well. The dynamics present on the cross are present here too -- complete and obedient (that is open and responsive) submission to the will of God, and an unfathomable subjection to that which sin makes necessary so that God's love may conquer precisely here as well.