Summary: The Baptism of the Lord First Sunday in Ordinary Time
One of my favorite movies is made by the Coen Brothers. It is called “O Brother, Where Art Thou.” It features George Clooney and John Turturro as these escaped convicts in the depression of the 1930’s in America. George Clooney is a smooth-talker in jail for practicing law without a license. They escape from a road crew and at one point a few days after their escape, they are in the woods and they behold a most strange sight. All these people dressed in white gowns come walking by them towards the river where a minister is baptizing folks. Moved by the sight and overwhelmed by the opportunity for forgiveness, one of the convicts runs to the bank of the river and takes his turn being dunked.
Immediately when he comes up, he calls to his friends and tells them that the minister said all his sins had been washed away, even the sin of stealing that pig that he was convicted for. George Clooney, puzzled, says, “I thought you told me you were innocent?” The newly baptized convict says, “Well…I lied. And that’s been forgiven too!” Then he stretches out his arms and says to his friends on the river bank, “Come on in boys…the water’s fine.”
Water: This natural compound is the source of life really. Our bodies are over 2/3 water in composition. We are recommended to drink at least 8 glasses of water a day by doctors now. And even Methodism’s founder John Wesley advocated the consumption of at least 2 pints of water a day back in the 18th century. We rely on warm water for our physical hygiene, cold water to brush our teeth each day, boiling water for the all-important English cup of tea, rain water to hydrate the flowers and grass in the garden, soapy water to wash our clothing, our dishes, and our automobiles, and an abundance of water to sail our boats down the River Stour. In short, we rely on water to live. We need lots of it, especially now in the age of dishwashers, washing machines, and car washes.
Is it any shock then that water features so prominently in the ancient near eastern world? When nothing existed but chaos, the Spirit of God swept across the dark waters and brought forth light. When the people of God were slaves in Egypt, God led them to freedom through parted waters. In the fullness of time God sent his only Son our Lord Jesus, nurtured in the water of a womb, to be our savior. Jesus himself was baptized in the waters of the Jordan.
After his baptism, Jesus continually met people in the context of water. He encountered a woman at a well. He healed lepers through the waters of a pool. He called disciples from a life of work on the water as fishermen. He calmed the stormy waters of the Sea of Galilee. He walked on water as one his most famous miracles. Well…you get the point.
I am always fascinated by this story of the baptism of Jesus. It is one of the few stories that all four gospels contain. I am fascinated by this story because it is so hard to understand. If baptism is about forgiveness and the washing away of sin, then why was a sinless Jesus in need of baptism? The answer lies in the fact that forgiveness of sin is one of many elements that we take on in baptism.