The Baptism of Our Lord

Last week I saw two scenes that I suspect those involved wished hadn’t happened. The first was the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, slapping the hand of a woman who had grabbed his hand and wasn’t about to let him go as he was walking by the crowds. He subsequently apologised. The second was the Australian Prime Minister who on a visit to a fire ravaged town where he was definitely not welcome actually took a woman’s hand to shake it and the lady acquiesced saying that she’d only shake his hand if he gave more funding to the Rural Fire Brigade. The Prime Minister later commented that “he’s not surprised people are feeling raw”. Whatever else these events are or portent for the future, they are media nightmares for the people concerned.

For all the training and choreography that goes into media events, for all the behind-thescenes stage management that is happening which no one is meant to see, there are moments when ‘reality’ (whatever that is – of the moment or the person or the thought or the words said) are evident for all to see. Before mass media, only those physically present would have been aware but now the moment is ubiquitous and eternal. Should one build one’s understanding of the Pope or the Prime Minister on these moments? I hope not. But they can’t be forgotten either. We have deal with them just as we have to deal with all of life.

What would Jesus’ media minders have said to him as he started his public ministry?

My guess is that when John the Baptist queried baptising Jesus, the minders would have been gesturing and mouthing and miming frantically ‘Take over! Take over! Swap places! Do it!’. My hunch is that as Jesus got into the line to be baptised, they would have been shaking their heads having clearly told Jesus, ‘Worst. Public entrance. Ever.’ The logic is simple – [Jesus] you can’t align yourself with sinners to rescue sinners – you’ve got to give people hope – you’ve got to make a splash and get their attention as the hero – you can’t be just one of them.

Now the heavens opening and the dove and voice are indeed special effects but there’s always been some confusion as to who saw them and who heard the voice. Matthew says that Jesus saw the visuals and the voice seems to be speaking to everyone. But who heard it? Who believed it? We don’t know. My guess is that the only thing that people definitely remembered above all about Jesus that day was that he was baptised by John who was baptising for repentance which makes Jesus … in need of repentance … and thus we’d say a ‘sinner’. John didn’t understand and Jesus did it ‘to fulfil all righteousness’ and another step on the mystery that God has become human and his humanity is in solidarity with us so much so that this public ministry will end on a cross.

In reaching to those who feel forlorn, unloved, unworthy or who trip themselves up with weakness or who are consumed by regret and shame, the story of this Jesus who comes among us understanding our humanity is compelling. Especially if, after the cross, there is an empty tomb!

And even then in his risen glory, Jesus still defies the expected – the big, the grandiose – because he still today uses words, water, bread and wine to reach us and to assure us that life with him – the real everyday life we actually live – can be lived with him every step of the way. It’s the best news we’ll ever hear! G