I can see that it’s not going to be easy writing these posts after all. For one thing, in a couple of chapters of a gospel there’s so much I want to spend time thinking about and writing that it’s hard to see what to focus on. For another, I’ve read, thought about and preached on these passages so many times that it’s all too easy just to fall into whatever I said last time.
I’m going to try, for now at least, to take each set ‘chunk’ as a whole, and see how that shapes my response.
So here we have in two chapters the whole beginning of Jesus’ ministry, leaping over the first thirty years of his life.
First we read of the coming of John the Baptist, without introduction as we’ll have in Luke. And by appearing on the scene in full flow, he cements the link to the last bit of the Old Testament we read, coming as Elijah to proclaim the arrival of the Messiah who comes as a refiner’s fire.
He himself foretells that he will be eclipsed by the one who follows him, and so it is. But Jesus doesn’t just walk and and take over. First he himself is baptised, despite John’s objection. Jesus as an adult chooses to accept what he was born to, and in being baptised steps into our path of relationship with his Father. He had no need of repentance, or of any symbolic or sacramental act to cleanse him. He chose, though, to approach God as we do, so that we in turn can approach the Father as Jesus does.
Joining in our baptism, he sees and hears the Father’s affirmation of his call and identity. Then, rather than heading straight out to preach, he heads into the wilderness to fast, pray and think. I believe that he spent this time clarifying what was to come, and drawing strength from God for the struggles ahead. There he faced temptation – to use his power for his own comfort, to gain instant celebrity by a grand stunt or to take the easy path to power by compromising on principle. He rejected these wrong turns, and incidentally showed us that to be tempted is not sinful – only to give in to temptation.
Once Jesus is sure of who he is and of how he is called to live, he comes out of the desert, but it’s not until John has been arrested that Jesus begins his ministry fully. He begins to proclaim the Kingdom of God, which brings the call to repentance. What he means by this we’ll see over coming days.
It’s after he’s begun to preach that he calls his first disciples, who I assume already knew him as a carpenter and rabbi. What was it about him that made them follow so readily?
Perhaps in him they saw someone who has worked out what it means to be God in the world, fully human and fully God – living obediently to his Father, in the light of the great story of which he knows himself to be a part.
How sure can I be of who I am, and of my part in the same story? And if I were more sure, and right, what would that mean for me and for those around me?