Thursday, August 11, 2011

Baptism of Jesus

I am reading, "Jesus, a biography from a believer" by Paul Johnson.  It's a fascinating read as it discusses not just the gospels but the history of the times as well.  I've just read his discussion of the Baptism of Jesus.  Jesus asked this of John.  The event was miraculous with crowds witnessing audible and visual miracles.  The spirit of God descended like a 'dove' and a voice as of God said, "this is my son."
The question of Jesus's capacity for 'sin', ie his 'humaness' is sometimes raised by those who would have him 'perfect' from birth. And yet he was God born in the human condition to experience the human condition. I've never felt comfortable with the idea of Jesus "the perfect'.  Throughout the gospels he is repeatedly seen as struggling to know God's will. He is 'separate' as are we from this divine source of 'perfection'.
Baptism is a time of renewal and a time of 'washing away past sins'. (Sin is just a fancy ancient word for mis-takes as in the unintended results of even well intended actions)  Paul Johnson speaks to baptism's 'universality' saying that Jesus partook in the process for this reason as much as any.  That may well be true but it's equally true that in the 18 years of Jesus' life not recorded in the scriptures there were things that Jesus wished to leave behind.
When I was baptised as an adult it was a personally miraculous experience.  I can honestly say that to me the 'earth moved' and I felt 'other', a bit as if the 'gravity' of this earth had lifted and I was liberated. Others have described this as 'letting go of their burden'.  I'd like to think that Jesus as a young man made some mistakes he wasn't proud of and that those errors of tongue and deed were what he washed away.
Baptism is also a transition from outside to insider in the 'church'.  I'd like to think that Jesus who had previously acted more as a 'loner' took up his 'political' position in the 'church' , that communion of believers.  The priests of the time were often hereditary and interested in their power and priviledge.  Jesus would challenge this. It was his duty to bring 'reformation'.  He might well have just walked away from baptism as he later could have 'walked away' from Jerusalem.  That would have resulted in a very different story.  That he didn't speaks to 'duty' and 'purpose' and the sense of obligation that comes with 'idealism' and a 'higher power'.
If there is only this day and all is materialism then surely 'sensualism' is the answer and clearly one would live 'safely' without any consideration of 'sacrifice' for others.  That Jesus didn't see himself in the modern sense of 'every man for himself' is evident at his 'baptism'.  Baptism by 'water' reflects the fact that we are as a species 'of water' and mostly 'water', which 'flows'.
As Paul Johnson brings home the 'baptism of Jesus' was miraculous.  I am thankful to him for reminding me that indeed "I'm a spiritual being having a material experience rather than a material being having a spiritual experience."  Both may be true but I'd not forget one for the other and miss out on the wonder and sacred of life so depicted in the glory of Jesus.

1 comment:

haykind said...

A theological friend contacted me after reading this article and said it is a central tenet of Christian theology that Jesus didn't 'sin'. It's clear later that Jesus was 'tempted'. Jesus himself said if you 'think about adultery' then you've as much as committed it. Temptation to my mind involves 'choice' and 'consideration'. I've been told we're not responsible for our 'first thought' but what we dwell on. In the 'moral' sense of 'sin' which is 'personal choice' then Jesus did not sin is reasonable. But the ancients used the word 'to sin' to define even a child falling who attempts to walk. This is certainly a consideration. The message of Jesus' example was that his life was 'exemplary' and gave us a 'template' which in popular culture comes out as 'What would Jesus do?" That said, the message for me is always in the "Cloud of Unknowing." As my friend Al says, "If God was small enough for me to know him, he'd not be big enough to do the job.' Humility is all about the faith which Jesus preached, Thy Will Be Done, Not My Will. The exercise of writing and talking about the ideas we have of God or Jesus or the Bible is the essence of 'Bible Study' in which our awareness and appreciation grow. A former Franciscan monk was discussing St. John of the Cross's experience of gospel in comparison with Thomas Acquinas. Each day I learn more and of course in learning realize how little I know. I do appreciate the insights and comments.