In the Lectionary

January 8, Baptism of the Lord

Matthew 3:13–17

The baptismal text begins a pattern in Jesus’ ministry that I’m not sure is taken with enough seriousness: Jesus continually empowering the church for service rather than limiting that power to himself.

In Matthew’s text it seems likely that Jesus’ baptism hearkens toward Matthew’s inclination to weave his narrative of Jesus’ ministry into the scriptural foundations of messianic expectation. When taken in concert with all four Gospels, however, a subtle but powerful pattern emerges: the very crux of Jesus’ messianism is empowerment of the church, of all those who will come after to continue God’s mission of giving life.

John’s protest that he should be baptized by Jesus and not the other way around presents in its own way a kind of foreshadowing of what will come immediately after in Matthew’s Gospel: the temptation in the wilderness. Now we can assume that John’s intentions in the request for Jesus to baptize him were born out of sincere awe and respect for what he believed Jesus to represent, and we can assume more malicious intentions from the devil that Jesus encounters in the wilderness. But what unites both episodes is the temptation for Jesus to arrogate to himself a messianic authority that would be centered upon consolidating power—the Messiah baptizes and not the other way around, the Messiah rules the earth rather than serving it, etc. Jesus’ demurral at his baptism is the messianic demurral of arrogation that will define his ministry.