12.01.2020 — Jesus’ fitness for service

Baptism of the Lord, Sunday – 12th January 2020 — Gospel: Matthew 3,13-17

Jesus’ fitness for service

When John the Baptist recognizes Jesus before his baptism, he expresses both Jesus’ prophetic insight and his humility. He keeps trying to prevent Jesus from undergoing this baptism of repentance meant for sinners. Rather John needs the eschatological baptism by the Spirit which the Coming Messiah can give (Mt 3,11). What Jesus wants contradicts all John’s fiery apocalyptic images of the final judge. The Messiah turns out to be an ordinary man who humbly and voluntarily associates himself with sinners. John objects to this reversal of the proper roles and order of salvation history. Jesus rejects John’s objection. But, instead of stressing his superiority over John, Jesus associates himself with John saying “it is fitting for us”. Here Jesus’ authority and John’s subservient role are maintained to enact God’s saving will that was previously manifested.

For the first time in the gospel, Jesus points to the fittingness of God’s plan for salvation. It befits both John and Jesus to fulfill in this critical hour the roles mapped out before time by prophecy, which Jesus affirms in this context with “now”. Here ‘righteousness’ seems to mean the saving activity of God (Mt 5,6; 6,33). “To fulfill all righteousness” seems to refer to prophetic fulfillment. The opening of the heavens may allude to Ezekiel’s inaugural vision, also by a river (Ezek 1,1). Is 63,11-64,1 deals with the themes of exodus, passing through the divided waters, the Spirit descending from the Lord and being put on the Israelites, and God as Father – all ending with the cry: “O that you would rend the heavens and come down!” The promised eschatological theophany is now occurring. This is not a vision given to Jesus alone, but is seen by others. Here the Father’s message is directed to others: “This is my beloved Son.” Whereas in Mark the message is: “You are my beloved Son”, which emphasizes Jesus as designated Son for the first time. In Matthew the source of Jesus’ Sonship goes back to the virginal conception (Mt 1,18-25)  and so the emphasis of his Sonship makes no sense here. “Beloved” carries a strong note of election, which alludes to Jesus as God’s chosen servant, to whom God gives his Spirit (Is 42,1).  As God’s agent and anointed, Jesus is empowered by God to carry out God’s purposes here on earth.