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Jesus’ First Impression

January 12, 2012

I saw the cartoon at the bottom of this posting and had a chuckle. We all know how important it is to make a good impression, and that the adage is true: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Today’s Gospel shares with us the first impression the people had of Jesus, from his first public act at the very beginning of his ministry.

I wonder what kind of first impression the people were expecting Jesus to make? Perhaps they expected his first public act to be some great miracle? Perhaps some act of defiance against the power of Rome? Or maybe some awe-inspiring teaching? Whatever they thought of, I’m sure that no one expected what Jesus actually chose: Mark 1:9 says, In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

We are in the Church Season of Epiphany now until Ash Wednesday. Epiphany literally means to shine upon – to reveal, make manifest. The Season of Epiphany is all about Jesus being revealed. And here, we see that Jesus chooses to reveal himself to the people in his first public act by being Baptized with them.

John who had said in Mark 1:7 that he considered himself unworthy to perform the most menial of tasks for Jesus, is asked to Baptize him.

Doesn’t Jesus care about the first impression he makes? Doesn’t he know how important first impressions are? How can Jesus expect people to take him seriously if he is Baptized by the very one who (see 1:8) has been telling people that Jesus has a greater Baptism than his own to bestow?

In Matthew’s Gospel, we’re told that John did indeed object that he needed to be Baptized by Jesus, not the other way around. Jesus’ answer gives us the key to beginning to understand his action: “It is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).

Jesus’ words recall Isaiah 42:6: “I have called you in righteousness.” Isaiah 42 is one of several places in the latter part of the book that speaks of the Suffering Servant. It reaches a climax in Isaiah 53, where it says that the Suffering Servant has “borne our infirmities and carried our diseases,” “by his bruises we are healed,” “and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (53:4-6).

Jesus comes to be among us – God with us, our Emmanuel.

Thomas Long writes:
Jesus has come to “save the world, to make righteousness a reality for humanity through joining himself to sinners, and his baptism signifies this identification with all humanity”. It’s as if Jesus knows he can’t address our human condition unless he gets down into the mud, or into the tank [or the Baptismal river], with us.

Jesus knew exactly what he was doing, what he wanted his first impression to be: that he loved us enough to share this journey with us; that he chose to walk with us, to become one with us – no matter where it would lead – even the Cross.

(adapted from the sermon at our January 8 Services)

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