“Then He Consented”
Jonesborough Presbyterian Church
Baptism of the Lord Sunday – 1/13/19
13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.
14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”
Then he consented.
16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”(NRSV)
In Matthew’s telling of the story of Jesus’ baptism, verse 15 concludes abruptly: “Then he consented.”
What sounds like a simple reference to timing, points to the rolling away of a great stone. Getting to Then he consented requires the same movement of the Spirit involved in, “Let it be with me according to your word,” “They left their nets and followed him,” and “He is risen.”
I also feel some ambiguity in those words, because one thing is unclear: Who exactly does the consenting? At first glance, it seems that Matthew refers to John’s consent to baptize Jesus after John says, “I need to be baptized by you.” But when Jesus says, “Let it be so now,” doesn’t he consent to the same baptism to which so many others consent? And doesn’t this kind of consentimply much more than passive acquiescence to an outside action? Baptismal consent implies trust of and faithfulness to a transforming spiritual reality. And it signals commitment to a specific calling.
And yes, this holds true even for Jesus. Immediately after his baptism, he embarks on a forty-day wilderness sojourn. And during that time, he agonizes over the consequences of his baptismal consent. He faces a choice we all make in one way or another: He can use his gifts for his own personal and worldly benefit, or he can offer himself to the creation as a blessing. As a uniquely gifted man, he can live as either the Christ or just another Herod or Caesar.
For the same reason, confirmation is crucial in denominations that practice infant baptism. It gives young people the opportunity to understand that they are beloved children of God, that they have rich, God-given potential, and then to follow Jesus into consent. God’s gifts of love and potential are blessings not only to receive, but to share. Belovedness and blessedness are most fully realized when we choose to live as blessings.
Baptism, you see, is about identity. It declares that we, and all creation, belong to God, who delights in us, and who craves that we recognize the deep and indelible holiness within us, within all humanity, and within the earth itself.
Now, I know that there are some folks we just can’t stand to be around, folks who push our every button and who get on our last nerve. I’ve experienced people like that. More importantly, and I also know this from experience, all-too-frequently I am that personfor someone else. And I’m very often that personfor my own conflicted self. No one causes me more grief than me.
I remember Richard Rohr saying that we often look at the world around us and can’t help seeing more darkness than light. And when we can’t get past that, it’s easy to give up and say, ‘That’s just the way things are.’ But Rohr says that when we fixate on brokenness and hopelessness, we’re not seeing thingsas they are. We’re seeing things as we are.1Broken hearts feel nothing but emptiness, and blind eyes see nothing but darkness.
It doesn’t happen suddenly or magically, but the journey of baptismal consent does give us new hearts, new eyes, and new minds. Another metaphor for that transformation is death. Because re-creation springs from death, it’s not by accident that we speak of baptism as dying and rising with Christ. Jesus dies at his baptism. He dies during his temptation. He dies repeatedly as he shepherds his fickle disciples. And he dies during his agony in Gethsemane, and finally on Golgotha.
Baptism challenges us to take seriously our call to die to all the false selves, shallow desires, and paralyzing fears that would have us live as if atrocities in Syria, as if starvation in Yemen, as if child prostitution in southeast Asia, as if spiteful political rhetoric in our nation, as if the hunger and homelessness at our doorsteps, and as if our own secret self-loathing are all justthe way things are.
Such things do exist, and they point to the ever-present storms of nihilistic fear and greed. And to do nothing, to remain silent is to consent to let the powers of fear and greed have their way. Jesus does not consent to those powers. Nor does he let us sit back saying, “Thank God for Jesus; I’mgoing to heaven when Idie.” He does exactly the opposite. He calls us to consent to his lordship here and now. He calls us to take up our crosses, to die to all that is selfish, fearful, and falsely pious, and to enter the world in all its heart-wrenching brokenness and suffering, and there – and here– to live as ones being made new in the power of the Holy Spirit, ones who declare that God claims all human beings as beloved children. Anything that allows us to avoid the challenging call to die and rise with Jesus, is not of God.
Returning to the wisdom of Father Rohr: He speaks again to all of this in a recent mediation. When making suggestions on how to prepare for reading scripture, he says to seek “an open heart and mind…[to detach from ego-driven] desires to be correct [and] secure…Then…listen for a deeper voice than your own, which you will know because it will never shame or frighten you, but rather strengthen you, even when it is challenging you…As you read, if you sense any negative or punitive emotions like morose delight, feelings of superiority, self-satisfaction, arrogant…certitude, desire for revenge, need for victory, or a spirit of dismissal or exclusion, you must trust that this is not Jesus…at work, but your own ego still steering the ship.”2
I appreciate Rohr’s consistency. He’s saying that when we read scripture looking for any kind of power or advantage over againstothers, we’re merely seeing things as we are, not as God sees them – and not as God sees us.
To read scripture with baptismally-transformed eyes means reading it as followers of Jesus rather than followers of worldly politics, economics, and religiosity. And as Paul says, that requires dying and rising to new life with Christ. (Romans 6:1-11)
Baptism invites us and challenges us into the mystical practice of learning to see as Jesus sees.
Baptism invites and empowers us for new sight, new strength, and new courage.
Baptism empowers us to see ourselves, our neighbors, and the earth as tangible expressions of God’s presence and purposes, and of God’s sheer creative delight.
May we all consent – each day – to following Jesus in the new life of baptismal faithfulness, so that our lives and our living may always serve as signs of God’s love and grace in and for the world.
1From Richard Rohr in Falling Upward: Spirituality for the Second Half of Life.