The Baptism of Our Lord

Neither Doan or I watch a whole lot of television (though I watch a lot more, when you consider the amount of sports I watch), but two of our favorite shows are Father Brown and Grantchester.  Both feature priests, surprise, surprise, and they both, in their spare time, solve mysteries.  Each episode ends with either Fr. Brown or Fr. Chambers having cracked the case, who stole what or who murdered who.  All I do in my spare time is go to the gym or what sports, so I feel as if I’m slacking a bit.  Perhaps Frs. Brown and Chambers have set unrealistic expectations of the clergy – they’ve set the bar a little high.


I have no hope of clearing that bar, and yet some priests think the bar is set to Jesus level.  Thankfully, Jesus told us to follow Him, not be Him, but today’s episode in the gospel according to Luke illustrates just how high Jesus set the bar for Himself.


Being the first Sunday after the Epiphany, it’s the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord.  It’s a big feast, as it celebrates one of the big moments in the life of Christ.  And yet it’s a bit of a confusing moment.


“Why was Jesus baptized? Even for the early church, as the canon of scripture itself was being formed, it seems to have been a controversial question.  If Jesus goes before John for the “baptism of repentance,” it seems that Jesus himself is a sinner.  The account from the Gospel of Matthew suggests as much when giving voice to John’s reluctance: “It is I who need baptism from you, and yet you come to me!”


“He was like us in all things but sin, the author of Hebrews reminds us when discussing Jesus’ high priesthood. And yet we balk at the statement. “If he did not sin, how could he really be like us? How could he be fully human?


“We misunderstand this because we misunderstand our humanity as well as our sin. Christ has come not only to reveal divinity to us; he has come to reveal us to ourselves. Not only is he truly God.  He is truly human.  And he is truly human precisely because he does not sin.  All of our sin is nothing other than the rejection of the truth of our humanity.


“His baptism, then, is at the heart of his mission to heal us. He enters even the wounds of our self-rejection, without having made the rejection himself. He accepts full solidarity with us even if it means being seen as sinner.”[1]  That’s setting the bar pretty high.


When Jesus came to John to be baptized, John resisted, but Jesus told Him “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”


So Jesus did stuff He didn’t even have to do just so that nothing was outside of His human experience.  He took the risk of doing something that looked bad (not to mention hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes and so on) so that no one could ever say that He was less than righteous.


What kind of bar do we set for ourselves?  How often do we think about righteousness, much less strive for it?  Even the word righteous nowadays makes us think of righteous indignation or self-righteous social justice warriors.  But Jesus cared about righteousness, as His baptism attests.


So how do we become righteous, or at least more righteous?  Where’s that bar?  Well, it does involve avoiding sin, and when we fall into sin, repentance, and returning to the Lord.  If that sounds boring, it is; a life spent thinking about avoiding sin is no life at all, and can actually lead to sin – think of the sins of the Puritans.


Real righteousness is more about doing than avoiding.  The prophet Micah said that to be righteous meant to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God”  St. James said that true religion is “to visit the orphan and the widow in their affliction, and to keep yourself unstained from the world.”


See all the doing?  I was once taught that the best way to avoid sin is to be busy doing good, which I think is a nice way of wrapping all that up.  All that might not mean solving mysteries in our spare time, but it does still set the bar pretty high.  Where is your bar set?

[1] John Kavanaugh, SJ:

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