Monday, March 13, 2006

I need to be baptised by you

Strange things are afoot indeed when Jesus comes to the Jordan to be baptized by John. John, who preaches a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, realizes the contradiction at once. What on earth does Jesus need baptism for? So much for easy enlightenment during the first "luminous" mystery.

I remember speculating that if we enter the waters of baptism to receive cleansing, perhaps Jesus enters the waters to cleanse us. When our hands are dirty, we put not only our dirty hands which need cleansing into the water, but also some soap. Is Jesus entering the baptismal waters like soap entering water?

At Regent College, I learned that this was a popular view but the revered J.I. Packer rejected that explanation and suggested instead that Jesus entered the waters as an entry into his Messianic vocation. Though how he could take such a view of baptism and maintain the validity of infant baptism puzzled all his students. Class went a little overtime that day due to an unusually large amount of class participation.

Although I now think Packer was wrong to reject the "entering the baptismal waters from the other end" explanation, perhaps it is equally wrong to neglect the "entering into the Messianic vocation" aspect of Our Lord's Baptism.

The fifth joyful mystery ends with Jesus obeying his earthly parents and temporarily suspending his practice of quietly running off to the temple while his parents worry about him. We know that on the night of his death, Jesus was concerned primarily with obeying his heavenly father. At what point in time does Jesus life of obedience change from obedience to his earthly parents to obedience to his heavenly parents?

Perhaps we cannot say for sure. Many parents (not mine, thankfully) might exclaim an emphatic "over my dead body" in an attempt to bring final clarity to this question. Though one might also treat the appearance of a talking cloud at Jesus baptism / beginning of public ministry as a small hint. It has been said that "God has no grandchildren" because he relates to everyone as a parent. While there were no talking clouds at the baptism of my children, the message of letting go remains. Not only may things not go according to my plans for my children (the lesson of the fifth joyful mystery). The day will come when I do not even make their plans.

We can even draw a parallel into our own lives. Recall that Mary, like us, accepted Jesus into her life (quite literally) after hearing the good news (from an Angel). The baptism of Our Lord in some sense marks the end of Mary's "control" over that relationship. At what point, after having first begun our relationship with Jesus, will we relinquish our own control over our relationship with Jesus?

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