The River


Baptism of Our Lord
Isa. 42:1-9Acts 10:34-43
Matt. 3:13-17Ps. 29

Before walking on the water, Jesus deigns to walk in it, coming from Galilee to John at the Jordan. Crowds have come from Jerusalem and all Judea, and the whole region along the Jordan. John calls the people to repent (turn) and announces the coming kingdom of God. His speech, dress, and manner call to mind ancient prophecies of God’s impending judgment. He tells of one who will “baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matt. 3:11). He assigns to his successor power to separate and judge. “A winnowing fork is in his hand, … the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12).

As Jesus steps out of the crowd, John objects: “I need to be baptized by you” (Matt. 3:14). Jesus gives a soft rebuke, pointing out the significance of time (now) and the aptness of the action (it is fitting) to fulfill all righteousness (Matt. 3:15). This is a moment appointed to make clear Jesus’ complete identification with the crowds coming for repentance and with the intention to bear good fruit. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Stepping into the water and awaiting his baptism, Jesus humbles himself to know and feel human moral failure, human weakness, frailty, the fear of death, and death itself. He goes into the deep.

Christ’s humility is essential to his sacred calling. “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” (Matt. 3:16). In this scene, Jesus alone sees the Spirit of God, and the heavens are likewise opened only “to him,” a prepositional phrase omitted in some manuscripts but still consistent with the private quality of the revelation. The crowds see the baptism. They do not see the heavens opened, nor do they see the Spirit. This is a secret, mysterious, and providential moment in the economy of the Son’s vocation. The crowds, however, are given a public proclamation in these words, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased,” a phrase they cannot possibly understand in its fullness.

God is almighty. The voice of the Lord is over the waters. The voice of the Lord thunders with power and majesty. The might of God breaks the cedars, makes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare. God is judge over all the earth (Ps. 29). Let all fear his holy name. And yet God is free, not constrained, preparing a path beyond human knowing, with Wisdom to confound the wise. “He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; … I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you … to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness (Isa. 42:2-7).

As Jesus goes into the river, he steps into a broken human family, a natural order shaken; he dips himself in water reserved for the blind, the imprisoned, all those cast into the dungeon. He becomes what we are in a great parabolic action. Why?

As he touches everything human on that day in the water, he allows the grace of his life (the Beloved) to baptize the world, so that we become what and who he is.

Look It Up
Read Matt. 3:15. What is proper?

Think About It
Chosen witnesses tell the story.

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