[Translation by Herman Waetjen, A Reordering of Power: A Socio-Politcal Reading of Mark’s Gospel (Fotress Press, 1989) page 27]
[Image: “Creative Commons Baptism of Christ. Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River by John” by Davezelenka is licensed under CC BY Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported]
What Happened At Yeshua’s Baptism? Why Does It Matter?
Mark’s Gospel account records that the Jews came to be baptized by John in the Jordan. The actual preposition changes (from “in” to “into”) when Mark describes Yeshua’s baptism. What can it mean that Yeshua was baptized into the Jordan, while the other Jews were baptized in the Jordan?
I suspect that the Jews (including Yeshua) came to John out of a mixture of curiosity, obedience, and expectation but (as Waetjen explains) most of them probably were holding back a large part of their egos. They submitted to the baptism with a sense of repentance but, in modern terms, with their fingers crossed behind their backs.
That Yeshua was baptized into the Jordan (the main river of life that ran through the middle of Israel) meant that he entered the water fully repentant — that is, he entered fully into the life and traditions of Israel and was fully open to God’s future. To use a later term from Yeshua’s teachings, he entered the water “selling all.” There was no part of Yeshua’s ego, nor any part of his unconscious that was held back. If he had any hopes or expectations for his own personal future (his career or mission), he did not cling to them. He also did not withhold any part what he had learned about the understandings, rituals, traditions, and practices of the religion of Israel. All of that was offered to God in his repentance.
Into the Jordan he went — immersed into the waters of life offered in John’s baptism. We don’t know what happened when he was into the waters but when he emerged he was a different person, a new Human Being, fully immersed into God, stripped of obligation to the systems of Domination, freed from bondage to “principalities and powers” (as Paul would later call them). Yeshua, the new Human Being (the Son of Man), began to construct a new way for human beings to be in the world. That was came to be called the Kingdom of God (my preference is to call it the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice), a life fully immersed in God. Yeshua’s subsequent life and teachings made him a dangerous insurrectionist in the eyes of the religious and political domination systems (Temple and Rome).
So, Why Does It Matter? Or, as Paul Lehmann asks, “What am I, a believer in Jesus Christ and a member of his church, to do?”
Am I to continue to live in the comfort provided by current domination systems — a retired Christian minister whose retirement benefits have provided me a life of ease, including subsidized medical care and housing benefits? Am I to use some of my largess as charity to help some of those less fortunate than I? Am I to volunteer so as to contribute some of my time to help others? Is that “selling all?” Have I been baptized into life in all its fulness? — or is it just that my baptism happened in my lifetime? Has my baptism simply made me a better person? — or, have I been transformed into a New Human Being which signifies my “entry into a reordering of power, and in collaboration with the risen Jesus, the continuation of the construction of The Way?” (Waetjen, p. 26)