Season of Epiphany | Baptism of the Lord | Matthew 3:13-17
The lectionary leads us into the season of Epiphany, the showing or manifestation of Christ. Think of wise men seeing the young Jesus, and of Jesus becoming known to the world around him.
ἐπιφάνεια – ephiphaneia – epiphany – from the Greek verb “to appear” or “to show forth”: a manifestation, an appearance, a moment of realization
Consider Matthew’s account of the baptism of Jesus, an odd passage.
Jesus approaches John the Baptist and presents himself for baptism. At first, John refuses. It would seem to be a reasonable position: if Jesus is the Christ, the Lord, God incarnate, why would he need or submit to baptism? Why would such a ritual have any use for a god, let alone the God?
Not that the answer John gets is much use either: to fulfill all righteousness.
It may be that John simply threw his hands up at that point and said, “Fine.”
I have never read a single explanation of the baptism of Jesus that made any sense to me, at least none offering reasons of purity, or of a new beginning, or anything else that picks up on the customary uses and meanings of the baptism ritual—repentance, cleansing, dedication. Surely God has no need of repentance, or of cleansing, and surely Jesus was dedicated to his purpose in the very beginning (as John’s Gospel tells us).
Maybe for us the idea is closer to simple submission, or humility, even in the face of apparent meaninglessness. John submits to Jesus and performs the ritual, though he clearly does not understand the meaning of it himself. Jesus is submitting to the hands of John, though there is nothing to be gained; instead, Jesus’ submission may itself be a sign of grace. God is made known not only in human form, but humble even for a human.
We may sense God moving us to do something, though we do not understand the meaning or the value of it. Perhaps there is a meaning we do not comprehend. Humility and grace in the service of God, even when we do not see the purpose of what we do, may form the greatest experience and expression of faith.
We may not see the value of giving away our last candle. Perhaps it is simply that the other person lacks the faith to walk in our darkness and still find God.