Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:13-17
Jesus and two of his brothers were working in the carpenter shop. They were busy forming wood implements for the people who tended the gardens around Nazareth. As he worked, Jesus’ mind was somewhere else. A thought kept nagging him. “There is more than this.” Whatever ‘this’ was. Jesus had noticed his interest in the family business had been faltering for quite some time. It wasn’t that carpentry wasn’t fulfilling. It was. But, that thought would not go away, “there is more.”
Eventually, Jesus decided it was time to act. He knew that his cousin, John, had become some sort of holy man. People went to hear him speak and to be baptized. This wasn’t all that unusual in Israel. There were many so-called holy men who claiming some kind of anointing. But, John seemed to be the real deal.
Jesus packed a few things and told his mother and brothers that he was going to see John. His brothers were not happy.
“Who’s gonna run the shop?” James asked. “We’re pretty busy, you know. We could use your help!”
“This is something that I must do,” Jesus replied. “I’m not sure how long I’ll be gone. Until I get back, you’re in charge of the shop. Take care of mother.”
James could tell by the look in Jesus’ eyes that this was not an argument that he would win. He simply waved him off and turned away.
I met Jesus on the road outside of Nazareth.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
Jesus answered, “To see the Baptizer.”
“Why do you want to go that far to see someone standing in the river?” I asked.
“I’m not entirely sure,” was all he said.
His response caught me off guard. Why would someone want to travel this distance without knowing why?
Jesus continued, “I’ve always had a desire to know the God of my people better. While I am a member of the community and study Torah, I’ve had this one thought that nags me.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“There is more,” was all he said.
As we walked we talked about other things. I found that he did not hate the Romans like practically everyone else.
“The Romans are not the problem here. Yes, they are oppressive and cruel. But, they are more of a nuisance, kind of like these flies that buzz around our heads. No, the real problem lies within us. There is another place, another ‘kingdom, if you will, where our heart desires to live. How to find that place is the real issue.”
We arrived where John was baptizing. There were a lot of people milling about waiting their turn to feel the cool water of the Jordan River cleanse them. Jesus turned aside and found a large rock to sit on.
“Look at them,” he said. “Chasing a hope; a dream.”
“They work and slave to put food on their tables. They go to synagogue and listen to some career Rabbi read from the scrolls. He tells them that God has chosen them as God’s ‘special’ people. God has great plans for their lives. And, they believe it. Then, they go back to their mundane lives.”
“Then, someone like John comes along. They all run out to receive some kind of ‘special’ anointing.”
“They say, ‘If only he will lay his hands us and wash us! If only he will pray for us! If only…’”
“Promises are made to them. ‘Just do what we tell you and you will be truly blesses! Don’t forget the offering container on your way out!’”
“Poor, blind fools!” He said.
I detected sadness in his voice.
We walked down to the river. Jesus mingled with the people there. He was comfortable with them. And, they seemed so with him.
He was asking why they had come. There were many answers given. But, the one thread that seemed to run through all of the answers was that they all desired “more.”
And, they all thought that this time they would actually get it.
Jesus leaned over to me and said, “And, tomorrow when they wake up they’ll still be looking for ‘more.’”
Finally, Jesus walked down to John. John looked up at Jesus and smiled. “You should be the One who baptizes me!” he said.
“No, cousin” said Jesus. “This is your time I am here to be washed with all of these others.”
John nodded and laid Jesus back under the water.
As soon as Jesus came up, a white dove lighted on his right shoulder. He took it in his left hand. He suddenly realized why he had come here.
We heard a voice saying, “You are my beloved Son. I am very pleased with you.”
Jesus put his hand on John’s shoulder and smiled. Walking up out of the river, Jesus kissed the dove and released it.
He turned to me and said, “It’s time that I left you. The next part of this journey is for me alone.”
Jesus looked up and found the dove flying above. He pulled his cloak up to cover his head and followed the dove toward the wilderness.
In the first several meditations the stories followed Jesus’ life as a child. Most of the action is done to him, rather than by him. The last meditation on Jesus at the Temple began to transition from infancy to manhood. In this current meditation, and in the several that follow, Jesus is doing things. He is thinking and acting. However, the texts we have don’t give us a complete picture. They are snippets. This was how ancient hero stories were written. There may be an infancy story just to get the person born. After that, the writers touched on some main points to make their argument for why the person was heroic. Then, they climax with the one event that truly reveals the hero. That’s a pretty simple way to explain what we have in the Gospels. But, it’s not inaccurate.
One thing about these kinds of stories, or ‘lives’ as they’re called, is that they leave a lot out. There are scant details to help us really discover what the hero is thinking. This ambiguity allows us to use our imaginations to fill in the blanks. In this meditation I begin by considering the fact that Jesus was not fully aware of who he was nor of his life purpose. He is on a pilgrimage, not unlike many of us. We are searchers for many things. I believe that Jesus was, too.
Jesus is at the place in his life where he seems to finally get a glimpse of his calling. At this point he is revealed as the Son of God. He is the One in whom God is well-pleased. From this point Jesus begins to live into that identity.
And, from this point we’ll begin to know him more. I hope.
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