It was my first winter in rural South Dakota, and despite the worrisome weather, I was planning a road trip. On Sunday morning, one of my parish members came up to me and solemnly handed me a coffee can. It contained a roll of toilet paper, a candle, some matches, and a candy bar. “Put this in your trunk,” she said. I had no idea what this was. “Thank you,” I said.
Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism is spare. But there is this: Jesus is baptized in a river, in the wilderness. The baptisms where I preside have been relatively tame. Still, the danger of the river is present.
Obvious of course, now and in the beginning: God is not a perfectionist. Good at detail for sure, and drama, but lacking the compulsion to get every piece of punctuation in its proper place, ever. And forever forgetting the finishing touches: a proper frame, that final proofreading.
Tempting to be critical of such sloppiness, all those excesses and omissions. For instance, surely there is too much sadness to go around, more than what’s necessary for lessons and poetry.
But I don’t mean there is no serious business here. Only that there is something else on the canvas, an art in line and color, a splash of mystery, a priority of passion perhaps, well beyond the right answer and its rush of applause, something still seeping into our soil.
Jesus descends into the baptismal waters as an opening act of messianic obedience. Obedience may not be the most glamorous of the Christian virtues, but it’s the one that I’d like to highlight in this Sunday’s account of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan.