Today we celebrate the baptism of Jesus. All three synoptic gospels have an account of Jesus’ baptism, but Matthew’s version that we hear today is the only one that has a dialogue between the John and Jesus. Though there is debate about why the conversation is present in Matthew’s gospel[i], I find much more interesting the content of their conversation. When Jesus comes to John to be baptized, John tries to prevent Jesus from doing so, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus responds to John, by saying, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”
John has been out in the wilderness for a while now, and has been preaching all along about the Messiah. I imagine he has a pretty set idea of who this Messiah is how the Messiah will behave. So, when Jesus comes, asking John to baptize him, John pushes back. We are not sure exactly what John expects Jesus to do or say, but we can tell by the way he actively tries to prevent Jesus from being baptized that Jesus’ actions do not fit in John’s mental image of how things are supposed to go. In fact, John feels so strongly that he does not just protest or argue with Jesus. The text says John tries to physically prevent Jesus from being baptized.
What I love about this interaction is how very human and familiar John’s response to Jesus is. I can think of hundred of times we have equally tried to get in Jesus’ way. We couldn’t possibly invite our unchurched friend to church because we have heard their tirades about religion and those who go to church. We cannot imagine going on a foreign mission trip because we cannot get the time off, we don’t speak the native language, we love hot showers too much, or mission trips just simply aren’t our thing. We refuse to take our problems up with God in prayer because we think we can solve the issue on our own, that God is too busy for our minor issues, or we have yet to hear the answer we want from God. We cannot possibly take on that new ministry invitation because we do not have the time, we cannot imagine what good the ministry will do, or we just simply do not like change. Like John the Baptist, over and over again we prove ourselves to be experts in attempting to prevent Jesus from doing something in our lives.
When we were preparing for Church in the fall, we shared several videos on our Facebook page meant to spark some thought and conversation about how we invite people to church. Most of the videos were funny, using satire to highlight our discomfort with inviting others to church. My favorite is one where two guys meet in their yards after church. One has his Bible in his hand, having just returned from church. The other is working in the yard, tending his garden. As the two chat, you can hear the inner monologue of the gardener, wondering why his neighbor never asks him to go to church. He even admits, in his thoughts, that he would totally go if he were invited. But instead, the best the churchgoer can do is to invite his neighbor over for lunch. You can see the disappointment in the neighbor, but how both men try to skirt the issue. Essentially the churchgoer prevents his neighbor from feeling truly welcome to church.
To John, and to us, Jesus’ response is simple. Jesus basically tells John, “Just trust me and do this now.” Jesus does not explain why John must get out of the way or how baptizing him will somehow fulfill all righteousness. Jesus does not tell John what will happen when Jesus is baptized. Jesus does not even really offer reassuring words. To this dearth of reassurance, how does John respond? The text simply says, “And John consented.” But more fascinating than John acquiescing is that John really does have a choice. Like Moses, Samuel, Mary, and Joseph, God always offers the choice to respond. There is always the choice of saying no. I am reminded of the story of Naomi and her daughters-in-law. She gives them the choice of returning to their homelands when her sons, their husbands, die. Orpah chooses to go home; Ruth chooses to stay with Naomi. That is the beauty of our relationship with God – the affirmation of our freewill and the mutuality of the relationship is always present.
Today, like we do multiple times during the year, the Church will invite you to make a choice in your relationship with God. We turn back to our own baptisms and we reaffirm the choices that were first made on our behalf, but we have now promised for ourselves every time we renew our baptismal vows. Those promises include proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ, seeking and serving Christ in all persons, and striving for justice and peace. Those promises are not promises the church created from its own imagination. Those promises come out of invitations from Jesus’ life and ministry. Like Jesus asked John to just trust him and act, so Jesus invites us to trust him and act through our own baptism. Our invitation is to be a people who consent.
Now some of you may be like John, Mary, or Joseph who receive a challenging invitation from God and respond with a hearty, “Here I am Lord,” or a simple consent. Others of you may be more like Samuel, who hear God’s invitation but do not quite understand the invitation – like when Samuel goes to Eli in the temple multiple times thinking Eli is calling him in the middle of the night instead of God. Or maybe you identify more with Moses – who argues with God in myriad ways, trying to convince God to ask someone else, anyone else, to take on God’s invitation.
Luckily our baptismal vows give us some clue about how we can manage to consent to God. “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?” is the question you will hear today. The more you steep yourself in Scripture and the fellowship of this community, the more you will be empowered to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ. The more you consume the body and blood of our Savior, the more you will be able to see and then serve Christ in others. The more you immerse yourself in a life of prayer, the more you will find opportunities for striving for justice and peace among all people. Today you choose, you consent, to live your life within the community of faith – and that choice will have an impact not just on you, but on others. But Jesus cannot do the work alone. The choice is yours to consent. Amen.
[i] Troy A. Miller, “Exegetical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. A., Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 239.