More than enough

One of the great gifts of ordained ministry is the opportunity to engage in continuing education.  In my almost 12 years as a priest, I’ve had the privilege of traveling around the country, learning from some of the leading voices in practical theology and liturgy.  Of course, as many of you probably know from experience, continuing education opportunities can be intimidating at times, especially early in one’s career.  I still remember vividly my first continuing education event way back in November of 2008.  I had come across a conference put on by the United Methodist Church called “Worship in a Postmodern Accent” that just sounded really cool.  I booked a flight to Oklahoma City, everyone’s favorite vacation spot, for a few days at some non-descript, airport-adjacent hotel.  It really was a fantastic conference, filled with impactful alternative worship experiences, lectures by some of the most creative minds in worship planning, and good fellowship with people some whom I still have contact through social media.  For all the good that weekend had to offer, I also still vividly remember the overwhelming feeling of inadequacy that threatened to swallow me whole.

In November of 2008, I had been a priest for half a minute.  I was twenty-eight years old, and still not sure what this life of ordained ministry would really look like.  There I was, mixing it up with some of most imaginative and talented people in their field, and I began to wonder, “Do I even belong?  Not just here in Oklahoma, but in the priesthood.”  It all came to a head on the second day, in one of the lower level meeting rooms, at three o’clock in the afternoon.  Jonny Baker, then-head of the Fresh Expressions Office in the Church of England, had set up a labyrinth experience unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  A dozen or so prayer stations had transformed a room with loud carpet and foldable walls into a sanctuary.  There was a working television at one station, a sand box at another, and various light displays.  It all led to the center where Jonny had somehow created a flowing river in this hotel ballroom.  As I took in what was happening in that space, a little voice crept into my head and said, over and over again, “You’ll never be this creative.  Give it up.  Why waste your time?”  Still, I plodded through the labyrinth because I had signed up for it and I’m a One on the Enneagram.  In the middle, at the bank of the manmade river, we were supposed to write down our fears on a piece of paper, and I kid you not, fold it into an origami boat, to float down the river.  This really happened.  By that point, I knew my fear all too well.  I was afraid I wasn’t enough.  I was afraid that I would never be enough.  Not just to create some crazy alternative worship service someday, but that I’d never be enough to be a good priest.  I grabbed a pen from the bucket and began to write.  A few letters in, the pen dried up.  Of course, it did.  I couldn’t even do that right.  I looked down in exasperation at the pen in my hand and noticed that it wasn’t your typical gray Bic that you can buy a dime a dozen.  It was a promotional pen, not for Saint Swithin’s by the Sea or the United Methodist Church, but it said, “God doesn’t call the equipped.  God equips the called.”  I thanked God for the moment of reassurance, tucked that dried up pen in my pocket, and have been mostly able to trust God to sustain my ministry ever since.

That experience came to mind this week as I read the story of Jesus’ baptism by John at the Jordan River.  Last we heard, Jesus was a twelve-year-old boy who had stayed behind at the Temple in Jerusalem while his parents made their way back to Nazareth after the Passover Feast.  Last we heard, Mother Becca was inviting us to think about how, during those three long days, Mary must have struggled with her own inadequacy in the call to be the Mother of God.[1]  Today, we’ve fast-forwarded 18 years. Jesus is now about thirty and at the Jordan River asking John for baptism.  John knows he’s not adequate for the task at hand. He couldn’t even tie the thong of Jesus’ sandal.  John shouldn’t baptize Jesus, Jesus should baptize John, but Jesus is resolute.  John is more than enough for the job because this is the way to “fulfill all righteousness.”  My friend Evan Garner spent a lot of time thinking about that phrase this week.  It’s an odd turn of phrase in Greek and it is very difficult to capture the idiom in English translations.  Righteousness is one of those fifty-cent church words that gets used a lot, but I’m not sure any of us really knows what it means.  Joseph was described as righteous when he decided to dismiss Mary quietly after she was found to be pregnant out of wedlock.  He was a rule follower, but more than that, he was compassionate.  Righteousness was found in the delicate balance of doing what was allowable under God’s law, while also doing what was best for Mary; not taking it to the extreme.  Having Mary stoned to death was also allowable under the law, but it would seem that was not the righteous or just option for Joseph.  The Contemporary English Version, an authorized Biblical translation for use in the Episcopal Church translates the whole sentence as “For now this is how it should be, because we must do all that God wants us to do.”  Evan argues, and I agree, that what Jesus is saying to John isn’t that this moment of baptism is the capstone in God’s work of redemption for the world, but rather, it was, in that moment, the right next step in God’s ongoing unveiling of the Kingdom on earth.[2]  That’s what the season of Epiphany is all about, glimpses into God’s plan for salvation, spotlights on the still ongoing work of restoring creation to wholeness.

As Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were torn in two, the Spirit descended like a dove, and a voice from heaven spoke, maybe only to Jesus, saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Here too, the Greek is hard to bring into English.  Well pleased isn’t a bad translation, but another possible rendering is “whom I have gladly chosen.”  Jesus, the human manifestation of God the Son, had been chosen from before time and forever.  We won’t hear the Temptation story for a couple of months, but in all three Synoptic Gospels, we are told that immediately following his baptism, Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness being tempted by Satan.  As a kind of pre-emptive encouragement, God affirms Jesus’ calling, names him as beloved, and reminds him that he has all he needs for what lies ahead.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember any voices from heaven at my baptism.  Still, whether you were baptized at 6 months or 60 years, I firmly believe that in that moment, as water ran down your brow, God named you as a gladly chosen member of Body of Christ, heir to the Kingdom of Heaven, and co-worker in the ongoing work of fulfilling all righteousness.  Through the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit and the specific spiritual gifts imparted upon each of us in baptism every one of us has been equipped for ministry. With God’s help, none of us is inadequate for the task at hand, whether that task is building chairs for a new Sunday school classroom, leading a book study, packing sack lunches, or sharing the Good News of God’s work in your life.  God is still at work in the world, fulfilling all righteousness, and invites each of us to take our part in it.  When you feel overwhelmed.  When you feel like you aren’t enough.  Just remember, you, like Jesus, are loved by God, you were gladly chosen for the task at hand, and you are specifically equipped for ministry by the power of the Holy Spirit.  God doesn’t call the equipped.  God equips the called for the salvation of the whole world.  Amen.



Rejecting our Createdness


While it is in no way controversial to say that humanity is created in the image of God, there is plenty of room for debate on what that reality actually means.  Some would say that the imago Dei is our ability to reason, which up until recent scholarship, was thought to be what set us apart from other animals.  Some argue that we bear the image of God in our ability to imaginatively create new things, be they tools, art, or technology; a form of creation ex nihilo.  Still others would say that the image of God in each of us is the ruah, the breath, the Spirit of God at work in our lives.  In reading the Acts lesson appointed for Sunday, I began to wonder if part of what it means to carry the image of God is that we were created to be impartial, just as God is.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul argues that the primary sin of humanity is idolatry, not as the worship of money or power, but of self, by placing one’s self in the seat of God and acting as judge against our neighbor.  If God shows no partiality, which scripture affirms in both the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, then when we are partial to ourselves, to our what we assume to be normative, to lift up the sin of another while ignoring it in ourselves, to turn a blind eye to our our prejudices and biases against those who differ from us is in color, gender, sexual identity, religion, or mental or physical capacity.  All that run on Pauline stuff to say that every time we might choose to judge our neighbor is, in fact, rejecting our creation in the image of God.

Ultimately, this may be the sin of Adam and Eve that we carry within us to this day.  It isn’t sex or nakedness, as the Puritans who founded this country would have us believe, but rather, it is that we were not equipped with the proper lenses required to discern good from evil.  With the forbidden fruit consumed and passed on generation to generation, in coming to know the difference between good and evil, our understanding is inherently flawed.  We can’t see as God sees, and so what we see through our own lenses as good might very well be evil, and what we see as evil, might very well be good.  It is in the very act of making those determinations, of showing our partiality, that we fall into the sin of idolatry and reject the imago Dei within us.

In his sermon, Peter is clear, God shows no partiality, and that God is the only rightful judge of human beings.  It seems like it would behoove us as followers of Jesus, made in the image of God, if we reclaimed that understanding, to give up our bigotry, and to seek to do what is right in the eyes of the one who created us in their own image, God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In Community, There is Peace – a sermon

My sermon for Epiphany 1A, the Baptism of our Lord.

I remember it like it was yesterday.  April 9, 2009.  Eliza, our first child, was born on the seventh.  It was Maundy Thursday (we have excellent timing, you know.  Our first child was born in Holy Week and now we’ve moved over Christmas), and we were getting ready to take her home.  The day started rather inauspiciously.  I had slept at home, in order to put the finishing touches on the nursery.  On the way to Thomas Hospital, I was stopped at a seatbelt check point.  My insurance card was expired, but the officer was kind enough to let the shaking in fear new father continue on his way.  As evening drew close, the final tests were complete, and I brought the car seat up to strap in the tiny newborn for her first car ride.  We had absolutely no clue what we were doing.  Did her legs go here?  No, that didn’t seem right.  What about this way?  Nope, not that either.  It was in that moment that I realized that children really should come with an instruction manual.  I didn’t know the first thing about raising a child.  I couldn’t even manage to put her in her car seat properly.  I could feel the dark cloud of fear and doom creeping ever closer as one of the nurses helped us figure out where Eliza’s legs were supposed to go, when she looked up from the car seat, handed us a card, and said, “If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call.  We are here to help.”  And just like that, I felt at peace.  I realized that there was a whole community of people ready, willing, and most importantly, able, to help us navigate this new world.

I may be reading a bit of myself into this Gospel story, but I can’t help but think that maybe Jesus was feeling the same way as he made his was down from Nazereth to the shores of the Jordan River.  He knew that he was going to be baptized by John – he even knew that it was the right thing to do in order to “fulfill all righteousness,” but I suspect he wasn’t quite prepared for what was going to happen next.  Somewhere along the way, maybe he muttered to his Father in heaven, it’d sure be nice if there was a manual for this Messiah thing.

See, a lot has happened since we last left Jesus.  Two weeks ago was Christmas, if you can believe that.  We heard the great stories that we have all come to know and love.  Luke’s account gives us Mary, Joseph and their donkey, the Inn Keeper, angels, and shepherds.  It makes for delightful pageants, and I’m sure that glad tidings of great joy rang out here at Christ Church just as they did at Saint Paul’s in Foley.  In John’s great prologue, we heard flowing and cosmic language about the Word who was with God and was God and came to dwell among us.  It is a story of God’s unending love of creation that God would send his only son to be born for us and live among us as the light of the world.

Last Sunday, we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Name.  The baby, then eight days old, was circumcised and formally given the name that the angel had given to both Mary and Joseph.  Jesus, God saves, was nothing more than a newborn in that moment, and yet today, only a week later, we find him as a fully grown man of 30.  We’ve skipped over the Wise Men who followed the star in order to pay homage to Jesus and offer gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  We missed the flight to Egypt when Jesus, only a toddler, was taken by his family to exile in Egypt in order save his life from the slaughter of the innocents by Herod.  Much to my chagrin, we didn’t even hear from snarky tween Jesus who at age 12 stayed behind in the Temple after his parents had left to return to Nazareth after the Passover Festival.  Not that there is much of it in the Gospels, but we have skipped over all of Jesus’ character development.

Had we heard those stories, we might realize that from very early on, Jesus knew that he was different.  He was hungry for instruction in the faith.  He was eager to pray.  He was content to sit in silence.  For years upon years, he waited to find the fulfillment of his ministry.  For decades, he worked in the carpenter shop, waiting for a word that would call him to service.  Finally, that day had arrived, and as he made his way to the place where his cousin, John, had been baptizing anyone and everyone for the forgiveness of sins, Jesus readied himself for the task at hand.  What would this Messiah thing be like?  How would he know how to act?  What to do?  What to say?  Even as he approached John, there was this moment of awkwardness and trepidation.  John, clearly uncomfortable with what was about to happen, balked at the idea.  “Who am I to baptize you?” He asked.  “Let it be so for now,” Jesus replied, barely sure of what he was saying.  Even as he went under the water, I’m not sure Jesus really knew what he was doing.  There was no sin that needed to be washed away; no repentance that needed to happen; and yet, there was something that needed to happen.  The time had come; it was his moment to make a definitive commitment to the life for which his Father had sent him.  And so, down he went, into the muddy waters of the Jordan River.

As the waters broke open above him, so too did the heavens.  The water, still trickling past his eyes, obscured, if only for a moment, the vision of the Spirit descending upon him with power and might.  The whooshing of the river was still ringing in his ears as Jesus heard the voice of his Father saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  And just like that, Jesus was at peace once again.  There was a community ready, willing, and most importantly, able to help him navigate the ministry that was ahead of him.  Let’s not sugar coat this, however; the very next thing that happens is the Spirit, one of those helping hands, will fling Jesus into the wilderness for forty days of temptation and soul searching.  Three years from now, as Jesus prays in a Garden just outside of Jerusalem, his Father won’t take the cup from him.  But together, they will accomplish the work of salvation, the plan that had been in place from the very beginning.  Through the person of Jesus: his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, will bring about the salvation of the world.

Maybe you can relate to all this talk of dis-ease.  Today is a day not unlike April 9, 2009 or that fateful morning when Jesus made his way to the banks of the Jordan River.  Something new is happening here.  There is no instruction manual for the adventure we are about to embark upon.  It is quite possible that none of us have any idea what we’ve signed up for, but there is good news: we are going to walk this path together.  And just like that, there is peace.  Together, as the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, we who are ready, willing, and to varying degrees able, will support one another in the ministry that lay ahead.  Together with God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we will take our place in God’s mission to bring into right relationship every man, woman, and child with one another and with the God who created them, loves them, and wants only the best for them.  Together, we will work to bring the kingdom of God to earth as it is in heaven.

On April 9, 2009, the symbol of togetherness was a business card and a nursing staff willing to answer our questions.  In the middle of the Jordan River, it was the Spirit descending as a dove and the voice of the Father claiming his only Son.  Today, the symbol of our togetherness is the renewal of our baptismal vows; promises made and renewed every time a new member joins the ranks of God’s family.  In these promises we make a commitment to God and to one another to join in the work at hand.  So, without further ado, let us stand together and renew the promises of our ministry together.

What Does Baptism Mean for Us – a sermon

You can listen to my sermon at the Saint Paul’s website, or just read on.

Two weeks ago, I was scheduled to preach on what I think is the hardest lesson in the Church year: The Prologue to John’s Gospel.  When The Episcopal Church decided to let go of its three-hundred-fifty year-old Book of Common Prayer Lectionary and join with Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, and others in the Revised Common Lectionary, General Convention decided that in The Episcopal Church, Christmas 1 should still include John 1:1-14, no matter what anybody else said.  That means that every preaching resource based on the RCL is focused on a passage that isn’t what Episcopal Priests get to preach on.  It really is a crummy situation, and thankfully, I got sick on Sunday morning so you didn’t have to put up with the C-minus sermon that you would have heard preached.

Not so luckily, the next day on the preaching schedule for me was today, The Feast of the Baptism of our Lord, another one of those Feast Days that came into being in the middle of the 20th century.  All four gospels include a story featuring Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist in the River Jordan, it really was an important inaugural moment in his life and ministry, but for two-thousand-ish years, the Church has struggled with how to handle this event.  Up until about 1955, the lesson was lumped in with the Magi and the miracle of water and wine at the Wedding in Cana of Galilee in a three-for-one special on Epiphany.  Nobody has ever really wanted to have to deal with the Baptism of Jesus because it raises all sorts of doctrinal issues.  The big concern is what baptism means for the perfect nature of Jesus.  If Jesus is the sinless Son of God, then why did he have to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins?  In Matthew’s account, which we hear in Year A, the question is more about who is in control.  If John the Baptist’s job was to point people to the Messiah, a person so great that not even John was worthy to tie the thong of his sandals, then why does Jesus come to him to be baptized?  Couldn’t Jesus just baptize himself?  Shouldn’t Jesus be the one baptizing John?  Matthew is so uncomfortable with the whole situation that he adds in a little back and forth exchange between Jesus and John.

As any good, unassuming Messiah would do, Jesus stands in line with everybody else, waiting his turn to get dunked by John.  When it finally is his turn, John looks up from the River, sees his cousin at the front of the line and “quietly pulls Jesus aside. ‘What gives?’ [he says,] ‘What are you doing in this line? Now’s your moment, Jesus! You take [the reigns]. You do the sermon. You do the baptismal dunking, and then I’ll get in line [and get] baptized by you.’ But Jesus responds, ‘Shhhh. Don’t make a big fuss [about this]. Let’s just do [it this way] for the sake of righteousness. I know this feels like the wrong thing to do, but it’s right. It’s righteous.’  Confused but obedient, John goes through with it, baptizing the one man he knows for sure has no sins of which to repent. John gives a bath to the only truly clean person who ever lived.”[1]  Of course, we all know what happens next: the sky is torn in two and the Spirit descends like a dove and a voice speaks from the heavens saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased,” and then, almost instantaneously Jesus is thrust out into the wilderness for forty days of fasting and temptation.

It is no wonder that the Church doesn’t really know what to do with Jesus’ baptism.  The sinless one is washed clean by his very uncomfortable cousin and then declared God’s beloved Son in an amazing theophanic event.  Think back to your baptism, if you can even remember it, do you remember doves and voices?  I didn’t think so.  It is impossible to match our baptismal stories with Jesus’s baptism: his is just too spectacular, but at the same time, if the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord, doesn’t lead us to ponder what Christian baptism means, then we have probably missed the point of it all.  This Feast, once lumped in with Epiphany, now a part of the larger Season of Epiphany, invites us to ponder what our baptisms mean for us.  “Holy Baptism,” The Book of Common Prayer tells us, “is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church.”[2]  It is, for all intents and purposes, the beginning of our Christian journey, whether you were baptized in extremis at three hours old, in a pretty white heirloom gown at six months, or waited until you could make the decision on your own at eight, eighteen, or fifty-eight.  For the thirty year-old Jesus, his baptism marks the beginning of his three years of active ministry, it is, in effect, a commissioning for the difficult work he is about to begin.

Though the odds are pretty good that we won’t find ourselves hanging on a tree for our faith, it is our baptism and especially the gift of the Spirit that comes along with it, that readies us for a lifetime of following Jesus.  This morning’s Collect encourages us to reflect on our own baptisms as it names a deep truth: the life of faith isn’t for the faint of heart.  After a brief reminder of the story of Jesus baptism, we pray that God might “grant that all who are baptized into [Jesus’] Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior…”  Not unlike a graduation ceremony, baptism is a beginning rather than an end.  In baptism, whether as infants, older children, or adults, we are incorporated as members of the community of faith and welcomed into the household of God.  While some would argue that baptism permanently punches our ticket to heaven, making it a convenient end to the whole “being saved” process, I’d like to suggest that baptism is our Genesis moment: the journey begins at the font.  Baptism is where the hard work of living in the Kingdom starts, which is why we went through the extra effort to move the font from tucked neatly out of the way over there to right at the front door.  You can’t come to worship here without being reminded that as the baptized children of God, you’ve got work to do.

The Collect this morning asks for God’s grace to help us, the baptized, to keep the covenant and confess Jesus as Lord.  That covenant, subscribed to at every baptism after 1979 and reaffirmed over and over again, requires us to do things like: put our faith in God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; take part in the community of faith; work toward sanctification, and when we falter, to seek true repentance; proclaim by word and example, the good news of Jesus; love our neighbor; and respect the dignity of everyone.

Even the easiest parts of this list are impossible to do alone.  And so, in baptism, not only does our work begin, but so too does our relationship with God who will assist us by grace, and through the Holy Spirit, will guide us in the life of faith.  Nobody promised it would be easy, if it is, you’re probably doing it wrong, but the true end of the life of faith is the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven, and that’s worth every bit of struggle along the way.  Grant us, O Lord, the grace that we who have been baptized into the Name of Jesus Christ, may keep the covenant we have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior from this day forth and for ever more.  Amen.

It’s Hard Work

I love the Collects of the Church Year.  Sure, some are better than others, and some seem to match the readings for one lectionary year and not the others, but generally speaking, I think the Collects, many of which have been handed down from Cranmer’s first Prayer Book, are edifying for the life of Church.  In the same way, I’m not sure that the Daily Office gets much use outside of seminary and monastic communities, I’m kind of doubtful that many of the faithful pray the Collects themselves, but I do think that there is great power in praying and reflecting upon them daily.

Take, for example, the Collect for The Baptism of our Lord, as it names a deep reality for the life of faith.  “Grant that all who are baptized into [Jesus’] Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior…”  Not unlike a graduation ceremony, baptism is a beginning rather than an end.  In baptism, whether as infants, older children, or adult, we are incorporated as members of the community of faith and welcomed into the household of God.  Some, myself not included, would argue that baptism permanently punches our ticket to heaven, which makes it a convenient end to the whole “being saved” process.  In reality, baptism isn’t the telos of faith, but rather the genesis.  Baptism is where the hard work of living in the Kingdom begins.

Hence, the prayer for Sunday asks for God’s grace to help we, the baptized, to keep the covenant and confess Jesus as Lord.  The covenant, at least for Episcopalians, includes things like: putting our faith in God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; taking part in the community of faith; working toward sanctification, and when we falter, seeking true repentance; proclaiming by word and example, the good news of Jesus [see the confess piece above]; loving our neighbor; and respecting the dignity of everyone.

Even the easiest parts of this list are impossible to do alone.  And so, in baptism, not only does our work begin, but so too does our relationship with God who will assist us, and by the Holy Spirit, will guide us in the life of faith.  Nobody promised it would be easy, if it is, you’re probably doing it wrong, but the true end (telos) of the life of faith is glory everlasting, and that’s worth every bit of struggle along the way.

What Our Baptism Means

On Monday, I noted that Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism is probably my favorite of the four Gospels, and that is true, but as the week has worn on, I’ve come to realize more and more just how little I actually like preaching the Baptism of our Lord.  Don’t get me wrong, it is a powerful inaugural moment in the ministry of Jesus, but the discomfort of the early Church has spilled across the millennia and is pooling upon my desk.  My problem is this, as a preacher, I see my main task as finding ways to apply Scripture as a living, breathing text to the lives of the faithful.  If my sermon is nothing more than a doctrinal statement on the nature of the Incarnation or Resurrection of, as the case may be, Christ’s baptism, then I have failed to adequately do my job, and the fact of the matter is that Jesus’ baptism is so peculiar, a never-to-be repeated event, that it is hard for me to tie it into the larger story of the life of faith.

What it does offer, however, is an entree into the Epiphanies that come through baptism.  For Jesus, it came in the form of the heavens being torn in two and the Spirit descending like a dove, but very few of us have had that experience.  Even if we did, how many Roman Catholics or [former] Mainliners remember their baptism at all?  For Jesus, his baptism was his commissioning as the beloved Son – so what does it mean for us?

I think that’s where the Acts lesson comes to play.  Peter’s encounter with Cornelius and his family is a prime example of the Spirit at work in the life of a faithful Christian, and, as the Church has taught since the beginning, the Spirit is the gift of Baptism.  What does our baptism mean?  It means that we are full members of the family of God, gifted with the Holy Spirit, and invited to follow the Spirit en route to the Kingdom of God.  It means that as we mature, our opinions will change, our eyes will be opened, our hearts will be filled.  It means that we’ll trip and fall over our traditions as the Spirit leads us beyond man made classifications into the fullness of God.

In sort, our baptism means that our work has begun.  Which, I suppose isn’t all that unlike Jesus’ baptism after all.

To Fulfill All Righteousness

As I noted yesterday, the baptismal back and forth between Jesus and JBap in Matthew is well worth studying.  Clearly, John has some issues about his doing the baptizing of his Lord and Savior, but Jesus is quick to allay his fears.  “Let is be so now,” Jesus says to John, “for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”  What a peculiar response.  If it has to be this way for “now,” then what will it look like later?  And how is it that John’s baptism, the one that is expressly for the washing away of sins, will “fulfill all righteousness”?

My handy-dandy HarperCollins Annotated Bible defines righteousness as “right conduce in accord with God’s will as revealed in scripture” (Note of Mt. 3.15, p. 1863).  It then references several verses:

  • Mt. 1.19 – [Mary’s] husband, Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.
  • 5.10 – Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • 5.17-20 – Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not on stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.  Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceed that of the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Aside from taking solace in the fact that even sinners and teachers of sin will have a place in the Kingdom (a post for another day), I’m having a difficult time wrapping my mind around how the righteousness of Joseph, of those who are blessed, righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees has anything to do with why John had to baptize Jesus “now.”  My equally handy and equally dandy, HarperCollins Single Volume Bible Commentary, notes that this phrase, “to fulfill all righteousness” is “an adjective that not only applies to this baptismal scene, but will govern his ministry as a whole:” pointing the reader again to Mt 5.17 (p. 873).

So this scene sets the stage for all that is to come.  Jesus is following the rules in order to be able to speak from under the law.  He’s living into his full humanity, in order to restore every bit of our fallen nature.  He’s got a plan, to fulfill all righteousness, and that plan isn’t going to fail here on the first day of his public ministry.