The Baptism of our Lord

If you don’t care, why should I?

I was driving and saw something fall from her jacket pocket. Two girls were walking towards me on the footpath chatting, hands in and out of pockets, holding phones. I figured they were about maybe 12 or 13 years old. The afternoon weather was cold and bleak. I was in my world concentrating on driving and they were in my line of sight when I saw something fall from one of the girl’s jacket pockets. A black thing. They kept walking. It didn’t appear to be litter. She hadn’t noticed anything. By the time I drove past they had walked about 50 yards on and I glanced at the black thing. I was pretty sure it was a glove. Bother. I sighed. There was a Social Club of some sort coming up and I drove into the car park and drove back out again. I was going back to tell them. I figured I would get up to them, slow down and call out from the window nicely that she’d dropped her glove, drive on to the roundabout ahead and then resume my journey. And that’s what I did. Fortunately the traffic stopped me adjacent to them and I wound down the window and called out – trying to be nice and not scary – that they had dropped a glove ‘back there’. The girls looked puzzled. I know this is not the usual conversation one has and these days strange men calling out at you from cars is generally frowned upon. ‘You dropped something. I think it was a glove.’ Finally it seemed the penny dropped and the other girl nodded and called back ‘Thanks’ at the same time the traffic cleared and I drove on. Of course I would pass them again boomeranged back via the roundabout. There they were – but they had kept walking. They hadn’t turned back. When I got back to the item again I was more sure it was a glove. And that’s when I said – irrationally I know – ‘If you don’t care, why should I?’.

Today when we remember Jesus being baptised, we can be thankful that God didn’t ever say, ‘If you don’t care, why should I?’. And God has a lot of human history to observe and it would seem from the very beginning we simply don’t care enough about God to stay close to him. When we get caught, we generally blame others – well, if we can get away with it. Our nature rebels at any idea that we should live in a relationship with God as God when we want him – if humanity wants him at all – as a butler or genie. When God comes close and we tend to hide and be afraid. God calls us to go one way and we go the other. God wants us to live and we – incomprehensibly – choose death. Look at this planet, look at the news, the pain and misery we cause, the greed and selfishness evident, the love on our terms testifies that we care really for ourselves more than anything else.

And yet Jesus is baptised precisely because even though humanity doesn’t really care, God still cares for us. Here is a mystery that at the baptism of Jesus, when he is declared from above to be the Son of God, he is looking wet in the river and identifying himself as a sinner. Jesus is entering into solidarity with us – the ‘not caring’ us – even though he knew no sin. (We only come to that conclusion about Jesus and sin at the resurrection – before that everyone thought he was breaking all sorts of rules.)

And so today tells me even when I or humanity simply don’t care about God – when I’m having
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a bad day or decades of them – or when I’m simply being arrogantly stupid – God still cares. His behaviour notes my behaviour but is motivated by his grace and his mercy. Why else would Jesus become like one of us? (So we could live with God after all.)   GS