Up till now in Matthew's gospel, we've heard a lot about Jesus, but nothing from him.
Today the silence is broken.
God doesn't send an angel in a dream; God tears open the sky and releases a dove and the voice, which introduces him as my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.
So far this pleasure is based, or at least not erased, upon showing up in the river and uttering a grand total of one sentence.
Let it be so now, for it is proper in this way to fulfill all righteousness.
That's all he says.
That's all he needs to say.
In one sentence, Jesus summarizes most of what he will say in the next 25 chapters.
He is responding to John, who is looking at the cosmic org chart and realizes that the boss
isn't supposed to get reviewed and promoted by the custodian.
John would have prevented him, but the boss insists.
Forgive it now, for it is right in this way to complete all righteousness.
Yes, the first word out of Jesus' mouth, translated let it be, is really a command to forgive.
Later he will teach his disciples to do this for others countless times, and to pray that God
would do the same for them.
Right now he is asking John to forgive the baptism of the Son of God.
Let it be.
Christian theologians have puzzled over it ever since, but it's not so hard to understand.
Sometimes we have to forgive God.
God by definition deserves a far better fate than any human birth, much less one so humble and scandalous, yet Christmas happens.
The sinless Son by definition does not need to be baptized.
And those are just Bible stories; search the pages of your own life.
What about all the times that someone didn't get what you know for sure they deserved?
Why do the wicked prosper and the good suffer?
Why did this prayer get answered but not that one?
Why was this person blessed but my hard work and generous sacrifice went unrewarded,
completely unnoticed and unappreciated?
Why is life so random and casually cruel and unpredictable and unfair?
Why doesn't God step in and (fill in your own blank)?
What should and should not happen is as obvious as the fact that John has no business baptizing
Jesus, but there he stands, waiting in the water.
Sometimes we have to forgive God.
Why should we?
Jesus says it has something to do with fulfilling all righteousness.
This obviously must be something beyond following rules and expectations, because God is
breaking those right and left and therefore needs our forgiveness.
Righteousness fulfilled includes but transcends the rules, like beautiful music or a well played
football game – the rules serve a bigger purpose that we don't always fully see.
Jesus must be baptized for reasons we can guess but never fully appreciate.
John is absolutely right but not completely righteous; there is a larger picture he doesn't
see beneath the closed sky.
In his classic The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis reimagines the passion of
Narnia's wicked winter queen exacts vengeance by killing Aslan the lion at the Stone Table.
Aslan does not remain dead.
When asked why, he explains:
"It means," said Aslan, "that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know.
Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time..."
All righteousness—the right relationship and proper flourishing of all things, God's
dream for all that God has created—is a deeper magic than John, or any of us, can know.
Faith, therefore, is the daring art of trusting what Jesus says, even and especially when it doesn't make sense.
And his command to John to forgive his baptism is only the tip of the mystery.
In order to lead us to all righteousness, Jesus will say some obviously wrong, unwise,
impossible stuff to us too.
Do not judge, lest you yourself be judged.
Forgive others seventy times seven times.
Turn the other cheek, go the second mile.
Take up your cross and follow me.
Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.