Reading Matthew 3:1-6, 11-17
Jesus chooses to be baptised by John despite the fact that John would have prevented this from happening. Despite John’s objections, despite him pointing to Jesus as one who is greater than he, one who comes with a baptism of holy spirit and fire, Jesus chooses to be baptised by John. Despite Jesus having nothing for which to repent – for he knew no sin – Jesus chooses to be baptised alongside so many of his fellow Israelites who have come to the banks of the Jordon in repentance and hope. In choosing to be baptised, Jesus chooses to be found among those huddled masses and their lives of quiet desperation.
And in this choice is the whole story of the gospel, in this choice is a profound truth of the incarnation and the nature of God… Jesus chooses to be with us. Jesus chooses to fulfil all righteousness so that his righteousness might be ours.
For God did not have to be born amongst us, nor born in a manger among a vulnerable, colonised people. Jesus did not have to come proclaiming good news to the poor and deliverance for the captives. Jesus did not have to heal and exorcise, call and teach, commission and send. Jesus did not have to live in such a way that he had no place to lay his head and no coin to call his own. Jesus did not have to stay the course as opposition to him grew, did not have to stand firm as Pilate and Herod judged his fate, did not have to offer forgiveness from the cross, did not have to die. Jesus did not have to enfold his friends – who had denied and fled from him – back into the fold of his flock, did not have to meet the women on their way back to proclaim his resurrection. And yet, Jesus did. Jesus chose. Jesus elected to do all this and more… for us. Jesus elects, here at the banks of the Jordon, to live in solidarity with those who suffer. He also, in his righteousness, overcomes the forces of our peril so that we might know the fullness of his freedom. For this reason, as the writer of Hebrews reminds us:
We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Jesus chooses to be found among us, and Jesus chooses to fulfil all righteousness – so that we would not be abandoned to our suffering but gathered up into his life and enfolded into the redemptive grace of the Triune God.
This is Jesus’ nature – and for this we are grateful, and for this we are bold, and for this we are sent. For since this is Jesus’ nature, this should be the nature of those who follow after Jesus. We are to emulate Emmanuel. As God is with the world, standing in solidarity with those who suffer, so should we. As Paul would say: he who knew no sin, became sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God
God’s righteousness is God’s justice – the two are interchangeable, concerned with setting a broken world right. And so, solidarity is a Christian vocation, for it is here that the work of righteousness and justice begin. Before Jesus proclaims freedom and jubilee, before he begins to confront the powers that bind his people, he stands with them, he is baptised alongside them (and the heavens part and God declares him beloved). To stand with others in their struggles and hope is the starting point of working for change – for it is here that we can become aware of any ways in which we have been complicit in that which binds them, and it is here that we can learn how we all get free together. We don’t stand with others because we are their saviours (this is where our emulation of Christ needs humility and distance) but we stand with them for that is where our saviour (and salvation) is.
The questions we begin to ask then are, where and with whom do we need to be found standing today? How do we stand with others well? And how do we persevere (for the road to righteousness is rocky)?
Jesus models all this for us – Jesus knew where to stand because he knew his people, he was attentive to the fears, struggles, and movements. Jesus also knew where for he was in constant communion with his Father, and our God loves justice. Jesus also knows how to stand well with others, the gospels demonstrate the ways in which Jesus listened, how we spent time with people, how he did not allow social standing and norms to drive his treatment of those around him. Jesus also knew how because he was in constant communion with his Father, who has a particular concern for those on the margins. And Jesus models how to persevere: he rests, he withdraws, he sends others. He also models how to persevere because he is in constant communion with his Father, spending time in prayer, being fed by scripture, attuned to the one who has sent him.
The good news, friends, is that Jesus chooses to be baptised. Jesus chooses to be with us, though nothing could ever compel him, Jesus freely elects to stand with the world in solidarity… this is simply what it means to be the Christ.
Because of this, we are called and sent in the image of Christ, sent in his righteousness gifted to us, so that we too may choose to be with the world, that we too would freely elect to stand with the world in solidarity… this is simply what it means to be a Christian.
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