As we pass through Advent and Christmas many people regard the Epiphany as the “official” end of the season. This is incorrect. We need to be reminded that this season of the Church year extends right up to and including the celebration and memorial of the Baptism of the Lord which is actually eight days after Epiphany. This feast recalls the very first public act of Jesus but it also raises some tantalizing points about the Lord, His ministry, and what he was thinking. As far as the Church is concerned, the season, then, includes the anticipation, the birth, the introduction of the Messiah to the gentiles and the beginning of His ministry. These are all of His “firsts”.
There are several things about the Baptism of the Lord that are thought provoking. For instance; this was God, did he need to be cleansed of sin? In order to be baptized by his cousin, Jesus had to literally mingle, elbow to elbow, with a group of repentant sinners. If you have ever seen the Jordan, you know that it is not glamorous. The spot where baptisms happen is a narrow, dirty patch of river and not very pristine as one might imagine. Next, he had to humble himself; immersion is not a very dignified action especially in front of a bunch of strangers and gawkers. This was an act of unbridled submission. Even Jesus’ cousin tells him: “It is I who need baptism from you.” (Mt.3:14 Jerusalem Bible). In that same moment Jesus instructs John: “Leave it like this for the time being.” (Mt. 3:15 Ibid.). The passage concludes and says that John finally “gave in” to the Master. You can almost picture the two of them, standing waist deep in the river and arguing. John says no, Jesus says yes and whispers in John’s ear; “just do this cousin” or something like that. Not a very “polished act”, free of glitches, for the very first time that the public will lay their eyes on the Messiah.
As I stand on the “outside” of this event and think about it, several things come to mind. It is clear that this was not a spontaneous act of Jesus, like the feeding of the five thousand. He obviously calculated and decided that this was the “scene” that he needed to arrive at, in order to begin his public ministry. It was a choice. He did not go to a spot where John was preaching and blend in, he did not appear in the Temple, he did not gather a crowd on the street and perform a miracle, he did not spontaneously raise someone from the dead. He headed to the Jordan to submit himself to Baptism despite the fact that he did not need cleansing. This was the perfect act of a leader (CEO) who was had a clear understanding of the people he would be serving. Even before his ministry began Jesus knew that his role was to love and serve the people. As an effective leader you learn that you must be willing to do the same jobs and have the same experiences as your people. In that hierarchy you must be willing to do whatever it takes for the organization to function from the most menial to the most elevated positions.
At the beginning of his ministry Jesus clearly understood that if he wanted the people to comprehend the Father’s capacity for forgiveness he had to participate in it himself. “Jesus joins the people going out to John the Baptist in the gesture of repentance, not because there is sin in him, but in order to model for us the only authentic way to approach the Father. He goes to the Baptist as a beggar because the Mystery is mercy. Jesus surrenders to mercy by submitting himself to baptism…. (Magnificat, Jan. 2010, p.133)” In the act of baptism, one is pretty much helpless. You allow yourself to be submerged into the water by someone else. It is literally an act of placing your life in someone else’s hands. The power in a full immersion baptism is that you literally go down into death and rise up out of it, cleansed. Even at the beginning moment of his ministry Jesus submits to and conquers death!
So, from the beginning of His time on earth, God’s love is evident in an incarnate way and His Son has no trouble making it a public declaration for all to see. No doubt the event o his Baptism was talked about and pondered far and wide across the Galilee. “The purpose of Christ’s existence was precisely to give humanity God’s life and his Spirit of love so that every person might able to draw from this inexhaustible source of salvation (Pope Benedict XVI).” As the leader of a brand new yet unformed ministry Jesus understood that he needed to walk his talk. He knew that if he had expectations for his followers he needed to meet those same expectations himself. If you are in a position of leadership, be it for a few, or for thousands, you might make a close observation of Jesus’ take on leadership. Are you willing to do anything that you ask your people to do? Are you willing to model fairness and humility even if you have done nothing wrong? Are you willing to be present with your people and not separate yourself from them? Are you willing to put yourself in someone else’s hands if they know more than you do? Are you willing to be honest with your followers no matter what that entails? We are in a crisis of leadership all over the world. We have leaders who separate themselves from their employees and focus on personal gain. From the start, Jesus was the perfect CEO for a hurting people. His model could bring much needed healing to many sectors of our world. The corporation he founded is strong after two-thousand years! Take advantage of his wisdom. It’s free for the asking!
Copyright©2010 Kathryn M. Cunningham, All Rights Reserved
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