Monday, January 11, 2010

The Baptism of Christ

Yesterday, in the Liturgical Calendar, it was the 'Baptism of Christ'.  I commented in my sermon on how strange it seemed to be moving from the birth of Jesus to the Baptism of Jesus after only just over two weeks.  It is, of course, made somewhat inevitable because of the way the Gospels tell us nothing about the life of our Lord after his birth until he begins his ministry at the age of about 30.  Apart, that is, from one brief incident recorded by Luke when Jesus is in the temple at the age of 12 (Luke 2:41-52).

This makes the words of the Voice from heaven at Jesus baptism all the more intriguing: 'You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.' (Luke 3:22)  To put it in a very human way: what was it about Jesus that the Voice was pleased with?  The intrigue deepens when we read on in Luke to the beginning of Jesus' ministry.  Luke records an incident at the synagogue in Nazareth: 'When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom.' (Luke 3:16)  Jesus claims that words from a prophecy of Isaiah about One who will be anointed by God apply to him.

The reaction of those listening to him is interesting.  Luke tells us they are amazed.  They ask, 'Isn't this Joseph's son?'  In other words these people who had known Jesus for most of his life are amazed both by what he says and the way he says it.  Nothing about him and their knowledge of him had prepared them for this.  Mark puts it more starkly.  The people ask: ' "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.'

Presumably, however, Jesus had had some understanding of what his role and mission was to be while he was growing up and before his baptism.  Luke tells us Jesus knew at the age of 12 that he should be about his father's business!  Is it partly, at least, Jesus' willingness to keep silent about his identity and mission and live an ordinary life until his baptism that the Voice is pleased with?

I realize the speculative nature of these questions, but it is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that Jesus had lived for 30 years already before he began his 3 year ministry.  This coming week the reading is about the wedding at Cana of Galilee, where it is Jesus' mother who encourages him to do something about the shortage of wine.  Jesus' identity may have been hidden to most people in Nazareth as he was growing up.  Apparently, not, however, to his mother!

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