Righteousness is man’s answer to the Torah, acceptance of the whole of God’s will, the bearing of the “yoke of God’s kingdom.”
Ratzinger, Joseph (2007-05-15). Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration (p. 17). The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
It is a strange matter this baptism of Jesus. Does it help us to pose for a moment that it is not Christian Baptism? Yes, for a moment let us assume that this is a totally different washing in water that John has in mind. He himself admits that his baptism is incomplete. One will come who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. (Mt 3:11) So, what he, John, does is one thing. What Messiah will do is another, but somehow related. Maybe one is earthly and very pragmatic while the other is of the Kingdom and maybe Jesus’ is really neither, just to make it more complicated.
Maybe, the people who are baptized really are confessing their sins and name them like Nazarites would. The water and bath become the mark of a new life a new beginning, the filth of life lived thus far left behind. In a time of resolutions and new year plans, we can understand what this might be and mean.
Yet, is this bath merely symbolic? Is it not also somewhat real? The Jordan is not just any river. It is the river that Israel had to consecrate itself to cross before they became the people of the Promised Land. Crossing the Jordan was a new beginning. Joshua’s words “you have not passed this way before,” (Jos 3;4) ring loud here. Israel must watch the Ark, the presence of God, go before them to know where they themselves must then follow. On the other side, by the way, their first act is to circumcise everyone and to celebrate the Passover. They make a new beginning in an old identity and then they go to war with those who would stand in the way of God’s will for them to inhabit the land, Jericho.
When Israel crosses Jordan they quit being a ragged band of nomads and finally become the Jewish people God meant them to be. They are beginning to take this Torah stuff serious. By crossing the Jordan, circumcision, Passover, and struggle for the promised land they are saying: “Yes” to Torah and God’s will.
Those who follow John, are they perhaps making a similar journey? Are they saying, with Joshua: We will now take this stuff serious? These “baths” in ancient times were for consecration. It helps to remember that taking a bath or shower might not have been the common thing we take it to be today. Those who took them did so because great things were afoot. Holy things needed doing. Priests washed themselves physically for ritual purity in order to perform their priestly duties. The water was to signify that the unclean that clung to the priest had now been wash away. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” says Joshua. (Jos 24) Perhaps those who came to John confessed their past non faithfulness to Torah and consecrated themselves to join that chorus.
So the air hung thick with their confessions and the water ran red with the sins, and Jesus came to be baptized. Maybe, if it is not too much of a stretch, he came to gather from the water what the others had left there in vain, for water is merely water and water alone cannot take away sin. Maybe he went in not to leave anything there, but to gather from those on shore who had just emerged that which they had hoped to leave: their sin and as he emerged, he emerged with their sins on him so he might take them away. Maybe the voice of God was pleased because, he would bear their iniquities and by his stripes they would eventually be healed. (Is 53)
Yet, his baptism is also like those who preceded him: He consecrates himself for the ministry he will now embark upon. Like Israel, he will emerge from the water and do battle with those who would stand in the way of God’s will: Satan. For Jesus it is an emergence. The quiet years of obscurity, of which no one knows, are now over. Like Israel that had been obscure in the deserted places unseen and unknown by those who inhabited the land this is a River Jordan crossing. The Tempter had until then left him be as if somehow unaware of his presence but now he has come out of the wilderness and now he was a threat. Now the Tempter must fight him.
Yet, the least in the kingdom of Heaven shall be greater than John. (Mt 11:11) The very mediator of the consecration, the washing for righteousness sake, is said to be less than what befits the kingdom of God. John’s ministry cannot have been performed too far from Gilgal, the place where the 12 stones gathered from the river at the crossing under Joshua took place. (Jos 5:9) Geography just demands it. Gilgal is a reminder. While Israel was still in the wilderness, God’s promise that he would make the Hebrews in Egypt a nation with their own land was still open. Gilgal was a reminder that God keeps promise. The reproach that has hung on them since Exodus has now been removed. (Jos 5:9) Gilgal and Golgatha have common roots.
Reproach still hangs over us. The reproach of our own conscience. The reproach of the whispering of our own demons and our own angels. The reproach of our own consciousness being jolted awake from our cruise control daily life just long enough to see that we are east of Jordan, east of Eden. The reproach of having it happen again only to realize that we have done nothing to change any of it. The reproach that, in the words of National Lampoons parody of Desiderata, “You are a fluke of the universe, you have no right to be here, and whether you can hear it or not, the universe is laughing behind your back,” and on Blue Mondays we truly believe it.
What is Blue Monday? It is a Monday in January and, as the name suggests, the day of least happiness in the year. Well, it is Monday on blue Monday and that enters into the equation. Yes, there is an equation but no one knows what it calculates:
where unpleasantness of weather=W, debt level minus our ability to pay it=D-d, time since Christmas=T, time since failing our new year’s resolutions=Q, low motivational levels=M and the feeling of a need to take action=Na, according to the always reputable Wikipedia.
Over the past three years, researchers have mined social media data of over two million people in the U.K. and found that people were more likely to complain about the weather, guilt over resolutions and fewer posts about living a healthier lifestyle on the first Monday back to work after the new year, and that, Is January 6th, 2014.
The happiest days of the year are supposedly Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day and the first warm day of the year. (look on Wikipedia concerning Blue Monday)
The Kingdom of Heaven has its own Jordan. We do not cross it unless we stand at the distance and watch the presence of God, Emmanuel, cross over for we have never passed this way before. (Jos 3:4) At a distance, like Israel at Jordan, stood the women and watched as the centurion proclaimed: “Surely this was a son of God.” (Mat 27:53) Joshua looked up and saw a man: The commander of the Armies of the Lord, his sword drawn to topple the walls of Jericho. On the third day the women meet the angel at the tomb who paralyses the guard in fear like the kings of the Amorites (Jos 5:1) and brings down the wall - the stone that covered the tomb of Jesus. A new Promised Land awaits. Now cross the Jordan.