When somebody gets baptized in church, it's a celebration. People go out to lunch afterward, or somebody hosts a party. Gifts, cake, lots of hugs.
Read the gospel stories of Jesus’ baptism, and at first you’d think things were going just that way. The moment in the river was certainly grand - water dripping from his frame, Jesus saw a dove coming down from heaven, and heard the voice of God - you are beloved.
Cue the band, let the festivities begin.
But there was no party. Nobody celebrated this big moment in Jesus’ life - no cards, no cookies. If you read closely, the bible doesn’t indicate that anybody around Jesus even saw the dove or heard the voice that he did.
Jesus’ baptism didn’t lead into affirmation and comfort; it led directly into hardship and struggle.
He left the river Jordan and entered the wilderness - one account says he was driven into the wilderness - where he spent 40 days isolated, vulnerable and famished.
This is where the Christian tradition of ‘giving something up’ for Lent comes from. We let go of comforts and privilege, we forsake predictability and security, in an effort to draw near to Christ. Jesus teaches that faithfulness to God is not always about abundance; sometimes it’s about deprivation. God’s calling may be toward ultimate safety and joy, but the path goes through danger and destitution.
In fact, the only material comforts presented to Christ after his baptism are tools of the devil. Satan attempts to persuade a weakened and disoriented Jesus to forsake his calling from God, in order to get relief from the hardship he’s experiencing. The devil offers food, political power, and physical strength, if Jesus will turn from God’s path, and worship him.
But Jesus declines, because the harder way is the way to life. He trusts he will eat again, and find the strength to carry on, so he accepts the struggle. And he leads us today, on this path he forged in ancient stories. Although it’s been by tread by generations of saints before us, it’s still not easy travelling! Once, on this path, Jesus’ companions gave food away to thousands, when they barely had enough to feed themselves. Other times, they committed to forgiving their enemies, though they’d been wronged terribly. It’s a difficult path.
One desolate Friday, Jesus was brutalized by people who hated him, and he showed that it is possible to break the cycle of violence, by refusing to repeat and multiply the harm that was done to him.
Holding true to this path wasn’t easy for Jesus, and it’s not easy for those who follow him. But that’s the revelation of love. The harder way is the way to life.
The Table is a Christian Church in Davenport, Iowa, pursuing transformation:
from greed toward generosity
from violence toward peacemaking
from isolation toward neighborliness
from fear toward faith
Worship Sundays at 5pm
102 E. 2nd St. Davenport