JESUS: On His Baptism, with thanks to Evelyn Underhill

The other day I was listening to a priest talk on the subject of Eucharistic adoration, when all of a sudden he takes a sharp turn in his talk and starts in on baptism.  As a quick aside he goes, oh, and Jesus, he didn’t need to be baptized.

It’s moments like this one that stay with me for years and years, that start the fingers of my mind searching my “files,” stroking the words of scripture, attempting to touch the reality that was the life of Jesus in a way that keeps him both man and God.

After walking around harrumphing now and again and becoming increasingly distracted by the thought of Jesus’s  unnecessary baptism, I began to poke around the wonderful world of the internet.

Immediately what came up were reasons behind what appears to be the essential sham that was our lord’s baptism.

  1. It was to get attention for his ministry.
  2. He represented sinful people, though he wasn’t sinful himself.  He did it for other people.
  3. It was a foreshadowing of his own death.
  4. His participation in it made it “work” for everyone else.  Put the mojo in the water.
  5. It was the “right thing to do at the right time.”

Huh.

I’m afraid all this information just increased my already wide-spread daze.

What troubled me most were the knee-jerk reactions that people had to the notion of Jesus being baptized: he was sinless, of course he didn’t need it.  Whether it was in a book or article, or in person, the reaction was the same.  Of course he didn’t need to be baptized!  He was Jesus!

Perhaps there were even more than one exclamation mark after those assertions.  I admit that I didn’t keep count of them.

I gathered up all this strange knowledge and studied it.  What I made of it was that Jesus came out of these exclamations a puppet.  A puppet on the string of God.  Here, do this, Jesus.  I don’t need you to do it, but do it anyway.  No real meaning.  Like putting on a chicken suit for the opening of a new restaurant.

Scripture doesn’t make it out to be nothing more than a fancy ad campaign for the work of God.

Instead, scripture has all sorts of facts that, to me at least, sum up completely differently than the assertions above.

  1. Jesus prayed before he was baptized.
  2. John initially refused to baptize him, saying that it should be Jesus baptizing John.
  3. Jesus says to John, I’m doing this to fulfill all righteousness.
  4. After the baptism, the heavens open up and down comes the dove of the Holy Spirit.
  5. And Jesus receives the message, You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.
None of this lessens the significance of the act.  In fact, it increases it.

Who prays before nothing?  Who says that he is fulfilling righteousness (righteousness: acting in accord with divine or moral law) in a situation in which there is no need for something?  Who has the Holy Spirit appear to him and acknowledge him for an act that carries no real living weight?

Where exactly is the meaninglessness of his baptism?

In a work entitled, Mystic Way, A Psychological Study in Christian Origins, in a chapter on Mysticism and Christology, there is a section entitled The Baptism and Temptation.  I’m not quite sure how I came across this text.  A sure answer to my near constant prayer, please reveal to me the path before me, perhaps.

Evelyn calls this act of John’s not only the gateway to mysticism, in that it brought into the world the very unique characteristics that is Christian mysticism, but she goes on to assert that it is the very birth of mysticism.

The baptism of Jesus becomes this monumental occasion because of the revelation of the complete harmony between temporal reality and the eternity that is God.  For the first time in his life, Jesus identifies with the source of all that is.  He openly accepts his union with God.

There is a phrase for which I can’t find the source, but it describes this perfectly: the eternal life in the midst of time.  Jesus brought to Earth, gifted to us, this two-leveled expression of humanity, this sacrament.

Jesus became a new man through his baptism, through his purification, his sanctification, his initiation into his full expression, his naming.

He was washed by water and by the Holy Spirit.

His once one-leveled life became one of two levels.  After his baptism he existed, for him, for us, and for God, in both the worlds of his mother and his Father.

Amen.

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