I’m in “the Bible business”, as my grandmother would often say. (Well, she didn’t say it quite like that. It was more like, “How in the hell did you ever end up in the Bible business?”) Yet, I am forever amazed that something new emerges from a passage I’ve read and re-read hundreds of times, even preached on many times. And that’s how it should be: I am evolving and [hopefully] transforming. I would hope new insight or something new gets noticed even when looking at something familiar. I am looking with new eyes and noticing from a changed heart.
So what am I talking about? This year, I’m reading through the gospel of Matthew. You’ve probably already noticed (smile). I’m now at the passage where Jesus comes to his cousin John to be baptized.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” ~ Matthew 3:13-17
Even non-Bible readers will recognize familiar things or phrases, even without the movie version. Biblical imagery is throughout our literature, phrases and colloquialisms, art, and pop culture. Plus, if you’ve been to Sunday School or catechism, you’ve heard these stories over and over. Most likely the only thing that’s changed between when I was in Sunday School in the Dark Ages and if my granddaughters went to Sunday School in the 21st century is that Jesus isn’t pictured as white with blue eyes and light brown hair. Other than that, we haven’t incorporated much new information into our understanding of the biblical narrative. And that’s all I’m going to say about that … for now.
What jumped out at me was Jesus’ response when John objected to baptizing Jesus: Let that be so now. A better translation might be, Let that go, now. Matthew is the only gospel that mentions John’s reticence at baptizing Jesus and the only gospel to include Jesus’ response.
Let what go? Jesus insists that John is to not only baptize him, but that he needs to also let go of how his vision of how things “should be”. Letting go allows both of them to “fulfill all righteousness”. With Jesus, it is now a whole new game and everything is no longer what it was. This new way of being is slowly unfurled throughout the Jesus narrative.
The heavens opening, the dove descending, and the voice declaring all show God inaugurating something dramatically new. Jesus’ baptism is another epiphany of God breaking in and being manifest in our midst. It’s out-there thinking, for sure.
But the whole thing is out-there for most of us who pride ourselves on being logical and rational, and ordering ourselves and our lives accordingly. We’re being asked to Let it go, now; to let go of our vision of how our life – or a life -should be.
For those who are baptized and take their baptism seriously, it also means the inauguration of something dramatically new in our lives … and I don’t think it’s what we’ve always thought is was supposed to be. It’s not merely about salvation and new birth. It’s not about adhering to a certain dogma or identifying with a brand of Christianity. That is not dramatic or a new.
For those who aren’t baptized, you can still get in on the action. The real test for all of us, and all of our objections, is: Am I really willing to let it go, now?