Monday, January 4, 2010

King of Outcasts

As Christians, we expect the sinless, Son of God, perfect, king of all creation kind of Jesus. He's the one we are accustomed to hearing about. That's what we look for when we read the gospels. So at Jesus' baptism, when we read that there is a voice from heaven that says to Jesus "You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased" we are not surprised. What could be more fitting to describe Jesus than the combination of a quote from Psalm 2, which describes the coronation of the king of Israel, and Isaiah 42, which describes the king who will enact God's justice?

But often etched between the kingly connotations of Jesus' ministry are hints of scandal. His baptism is no exception. He is baptized by his oddball cousin. Luke doesn't tell us as much about John the baptist's strange appearance (camels hair for clothing and a diet of locusts and honey) as Matthew does but he does tell us that John does his preaching and baptizing in the wilderness which seems like kind of an odd place to try to draw a crowd. If John wanted to draw a crowd concerned about religion, he would have done much better preaching in Jerusalem near the Temple where religion was the hot topic. Its no surprise then that the crowds John does draw to hear his message consist of tax collectors and soldiers, folks who aren't exactly held up as examples of religious faithfulness in 1st century Jewish culture. And just in case we missed all this, Luke drives the point home by reminding us in the verse immediately preceding Jesus' baptism that John himself ends up imprisoned by Herod, the current king of the Jews.

It is with this crowd of miscreants and reprobates that Jesus lines up in the desert to be baptized by a man who will soon be considered an outlaw. In doing so, Jesus publicly demonstrates that he wishes to be identified with John and those he baptizes. It is John's ministry; one of repentance and real love for others, and not the ministry of the Temple, which will be the forerunner of Jesus's own ministry. It is with this crowd, a people tired of corrupt religion but so hungry for a real transformation in their lives that they will travel out into the wilderness and be dunked in a dirty river to find it, that Jesus wishes to be associated. In being baptized by John, the beloved Son who pleases the Father has cast his lot with those who have been left out by the established religion of their day.

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