The First Sunday after The Epiphany

The horror of the false accusation is well known. We rightly tense up and are relieved when a person behind bars is exonerated. Completely innocent and yet suffering punishment is a hell we imagine. (The fact that some prisoners remain imprisoned when they could be paroled be-cause they will not admit their guilt has to challenge the original conviction.) And it is one thing to be falsely accused with due process (even though the process isn’t working correctly for some reason), it is very much something else to be falsely accused via the media or via social media (as those who testified at the Leveson Inquiry consistently gave evidence). The baseless claims and the brazen pack mentality that brook no bounds (or the truth at times) is a terrifying ordeal – particularly for its long terms effects; the lingering doubts.

We want words and deeds to have congruence and truth from people and about people.

So today is a bit of a problem. Modern lectionaries present the first Sunday after The Epiphany as the time to recall and focus on the baptism of Jesus. The Epiphany manifestation brings us to the point of seeing God. The words at Jesus’ baptism from above, from heaven include the phrase ‘beloved Son’ and the words from John the Baptist down below include ‘repent’, ‘baptise’, and ‘forgiveness of sins’. Those who are baptised by John therefore have sins. Is there a false accusation here? By God? By John? By Jesus?

At what seems a pretty public event considering the crowd, if this event is the inauguration of Jesus’ public ministry then what are we supposed to understand? That someone repenting of his sins – a sinner – is God’s beloved Son? That wouldn’t be a problem if God was a sinner too – capricious, subject to whims or fits of temper. (Many gods seem to be like that in the super-market of religions.) But this is the God of the people of Israel – not known for epiphanies for about 400 years at least – God who is particularly fussy about sin and the damage it causes us and all creation. Because God’s holiness destroys sin ultimately so God has a problem with a sinful world and he establishes worship and sacrifice so that he could dwell with his people and bless them rather than having his presence destroy everything. So what is this God doing declaring a sinner his ‘beloved Son’? Has God slipped over to the ‘dark side’?

I suppose we just have to keep watching how Jesus’ life proceeds. It seems he does get a lot of false accusations. People will say all sorts of things about him including that he’s demon possessed! There are times he keeps silent and tells other people to keep his secret about miraculous things. At other times he makes the dots so clear between himself and God that people pick up stones to respond. How will the story end?

Years afterwards the Apostle Paul would say, ‘For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV). Now that is a story for the media and social media! So why does the world still have a lingering doubt about Jesus?  — GS