Donald R. Elly, M.Div.
Luke described John the Baptist as a prophet arousing excitement and created expectations by “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins.” John’s baptism communicated forgiveness of sin. It offered membership in a community that looked forward to a Messiah who would serve God restoring the world to its original purpose of reflecting justice, compassion and living in peace.
A result of John’s preaching and baptism was that many questioned if John was the Messiah. Luke telling of the Baptism of Jesus by John makes clear that though John fulfilled God’s expectations of clearing the path for the Messiah, John is very direct, “I baptize you with water; but the one who is more powerful than I is coming…(and he) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Water as a symbol of change can be traced all the way to the Jewish miqveh (cleansing bath) used to wash before worship to come into God’s presence with clean hands and pure hearts.
Baptism in Jesus’ name that developed in the earliest Christian communities was and continues to be for those following Jesus a commitment to live together as a community guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit that is formed to share God’s gift of love not just to the rich, but to those who had been judged unworthy and outside God’s care. God also had expectations for Jesus that were only able to be met because John the Baptist had prepared the way.
Reading and reflecting on Luke’s portrayal of God’s expectations for John and Jesus and how they fit together, I was struck with how passionate and intense John is and yet he was surprisingly humble as he said, “…one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals.” God, as popular as John was with the people, fulfilled your expectations dramatically in his humility that made it possible for Jesus to succeed.
Prayer: God, humility is not a word that comes to mind when John strides on the stage of history to prepare the way for Jesus. Make us as passionate and humble so your expectations of us can be fulfilled. Amen.
January 13, 2019; Cycle C; The Baptism of the Lord
Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14-17 *Luke 3:15-22