The following is a reflection on Mark 1:4-11, the Gospel Lesson for January 8, 2011 – the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord.
Also on this site is a Prayers of the People for All Epiphany.
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
They had ways of dealing with sin. Explicit ways. Biblical ways.
The exact treatment for sin differed by who did the sinning, what the sinning was, and whether or not the sin was intentional.
But, the basics were the same: you went to the Temple and made a sacrifice. You just followed the laws as written in Leviticus, and that was that.
Levitical law is written from the perspective that sin is inevitable, and it systemically effects the whole community if it’s not handled rightly. It must be recognized and atoned for, in the properly appointed ways.
There were also perfectly laid out laws on ritual baths. When approaching the Temple, for festival or sacrifice, you first washed in the pool of Siloam. Then, properly cleansed you made the journey, uphill, to the Temple Mount.
John the Baptist, as well meaning as he was, began his public ministry by directly circumventing the Temple. He invited people from all over to come and be cleansed from their sins, and repent.
Now, to us, this probably doesn’t quite get the blood boiling. We have no Temple. Our understanding of the handling of sin is usually a lot more democratic and accessible. We have general confessions in our liturgy, some among us have confessional booths, and most all of us have the sense that we can approach God at any time and say, “sorry, won’t do that again…”
But, imagine the ire if Starbucks started offering Venti sugar-free skinny Communion.
Come in relax. Share your story. Listen to the ephemeral music. Use your iPhone app for purchase at the register…Take and eat the Sacrament, prepared by a trained barista/ sacramentalist.
Oh, the weeping and gnashing of teeth that would follow!
What would gall (most) every pastor and priest among us, is that someone, or some corporation, was trying to do what should/could only properly be done in the church.
We’d claim they were doing something illegitimate.
But, what would really gall us is if people went to Starbucks by the droves for that Communion. If our buildings were empty on Sunday mornings and Starbucks were overflowing. (OK, that’s awkward…because it’s probably already true…)
But, that is the situation with John. This guy wearing camel and eating bugs was claiming to offer that which the Temple claimed exclusively, and biblically.
And, out marched Jesus to receive that baptism. Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, at the hand of John the Baptist wasn’t just a personal encounter between the Son of God and God.
It was a statement that in Jesus’ world, sin would be handled differently. A day was coming when you wouldn’t need a Temple, because Jesus was the new Temple. Because the Holy Spirit was going to soon take up residence in our bodies, and make us a Temple.
Intermediaries and sacrifices were about to become so-30AD.
And, the kicker—the real shock—is that when Jesus went out to the Jordan, God spoke to him. God claimed him.
This is my son.
And, by doing so, not only did God claim Jesus as His Son, but he also declared that a whole new ballgame was about to begin.
And, it was going to be venti.