Jesus is Jewish.
That means you cannot love Christ and be anti-Semitic at the same time.
It means heaven is run not by a Christian, but by a Jew.
And it means that whenever we hear a gospel reading about the rabbi and his
Jewish students and crowds, we are overhearing a different family’s conversation.
If he is talking also to Christians, it is only secondhand, brokered by his generous Holy
So when Jesus talks baptism, don’t picture a baby with smiling parents standing around a
pretty bowl of water.
Picture a grown man who can’t swim neck deep in the sea.
A couple years back, this foreigner asked a rabbi or a scribe, “How do I become Jewish?”
“Forget it,” they said.
“No, really, I want to be like you, live like you, worship your God and follow your
“No, really, forget it,” they said.
But the man persisted, and so the reluctant teacher started putting him through the
paces: learning Hebrew, memorizing Torah, reading commentary, arguing theology—a rigorous, multi-year education designed to weed out all but the truly serious.
He completed all of it and now still wants to become a Jew.
The teacher has saved the worst for last.
He will now drown this Gentile.
He will push and hold him underwater, which is the scariest place in the world.
There’s a reason that Noah and Moses and Jonah have to contend with floods and seas:
these are the Bible’s horror stories.
They are so terrifying, in fact, that we turned them into Sunday School lessons, the same
way we sanitize and minimize death into Halloween.
The drama of this murder is making a profound point: this man’s entire identity is
He is no longer who he was, no longer part of his family or people, which he renounces,
saying the massive no that is part of an even bigger yes to God.
If he survives the plunge, he will be a Jew, one of that widely mocked, misunderstood,
persecuted, trampled minority with only one strange, invisible God and a bunch of weird rituals and rules, many of which conflict with wider society.
Standing in the waves, he has reached the point of no return; nothing will ever be the
Jesus is Jewish, and so is his baptism.
He is heading for the cross, which is the scariest place in the world.
I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is
God is calling him to be something entirely and unfathomably new, and it’s impossible to
get any head around all of it.
What is unmistakably, terribly clear is that God is calling him to die and that his heart
has already said a massive yes.
Baptism, of course, has ripple effects.
Not everyone will understand or approve.
Family and old friends will be divided, some in support, some in opposition.
The conflict has been building for weeks; just revisit the last handful of gospels
we have heard in worship.
Jesus has rejected potential followers who wanted to honor family and celebrated social
rejects: a Samaritan and an inappropriate woman who sat as a student at his feet.
He has sent out a delegation with instructions not to call down fire from heaven, a subtle
clue that maybe he was expecting some resistance.
He has pointed to and prayed for a kingdom doesn’t recognize power or status or wealth,
but does welcome those without any as beloved equals, and he has instructed his students to sell their possessions and give the money away—to abandon the economy entirely for a fundamentally different way of life, dressed and ready like the children of Israel for the Passover from slavery to freedom.
Which of course passed through the scariest place in the world.
Not everyone is on board with this destabilizing insanity, so people are polarized
and things are coming to a head … and Jesus, being human, is stressed out.
Tomorrow the church celebrates Mary, Mother of Our Lord, who was warned of this.
Simeon told her way back in chapter two, This child is destined for the falling and
the rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that will be opposed so that the inner
thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.
The division cuts even deeper than the family.
It slices the soul.
Mary is human too: saint and sinner, healthy and unhealthy, trusting and fearful, just like
the rest of us.
Her son prayed in the garden, Father, let this cup pass from me … yet not my will but
yours be done.
Her boy is now heading for his baptism: Good Friday and Easter, our rejection of God
and God’s stunning response.
Baptism is falling and rising.
Our own falling and rising, our baptism, severs us from the familiar mixed bag of the way things are and attaches us to Jesus, who has been there, done that.
God knows what it’s like to live in flesh, Kate Bowler writes.
God knows the ache of growing pains and the feeling of goosebumps on a brisk day and the comfort of a warm embrace.
He felt the gurgle of a hungry stomach and the annoying prick of a splinter after a day of
He wept over the death of a friend.
Ours is a God who sneezed and rubbed His eyes when He was sleepy.
Ours is a God who knew longing, heartbreak, excitement, frustration—the full range of
what it means to be human . . .
Jesus, the author of Hebrews teaches us, is also the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.
Either way, that means he leads us somewhere we have never been before.
That instantly divides the room.
In Luke’s time, social scientists Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh point out,
the Jesus community was fraught with division as backlash to its seismic inclusiveness:
Given the sharp sense of social stratification prevalent in antiquity, persons engaging in
inappropriate social relations risked being cut off from the networks on which
their positions depended.
In traditional societies this was taken with deadly seriousness.
Alientation from family or clan could literally be a matter of life and death,
especially for the elite, who would risk everything by association with the wrong
kind of people.
Since the inclusive early Christian communities demanded just this kind of association
across status lines, the situation depicted here is realistic indeed.
Time would fail me to tell of other decisive moments throughout church history, one of
which kindled our Lutheran tradition, and many of which left the church choosing
(poorly) between power, money, and status or kingdom and cross, between our familiar present or God’s invisible future.
We try to reconcile them, but sometimes a hard choice has to be made, and the Clash is
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble, and if I stay it will be double.
Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our (trust), pushes forward.
It is clear to him that division and conflict and the enormous stress of baptism is a
small price to pay for the unsettling, unwavering promises of God.