"I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is finished!" --Luke 12:50
I find it interesting that most Biblical scholars have much to say about the event of Jesus' baptism (why Jesus was baptized, the symbolism of the place of his baptism, and the importance of John the baptizer being the one to administer his baptism), but they are mostly silent about Luke 12:50. Yet, so have I. Luke 12:49-56 was the Gospel lectionary text for this past Sunday. Although I have preached on the text a handful of times, it was not until I was in the pews listening to the liturgist and reading along in my bible that these words struck me in a new way. The Gospel of Luke, chapter 12, verse 50 invites us to consider this particular message of Jesus, "I have a baptism to undergo and how distressed I am until it is finished."
This particular saying of Jesus is set in the context of his message about navigating a world of division. He emphatically states that although many would expect his ministry to bring about peace, the opposite may be true as his words and actions may bring about more disruption, more disorder, more disturbance until true peace-Divine peace-is accomplished in the world. I would imagine this is not exactly what his disciples or those gathered in the crowd to hear him preach and teach were expecting. It is not what we expect.
This message takes us by surprise as we have come to convince ourselves in the church that being a Christian means being kind, being nice, and many times being accommodating. Yes, we are called to be kind. Yes, we are called to be nice. But not with the motivation of not hurting people's feelings or offending someone.
I would imagine Jesus often hurt people's feelings. He also offended people, especially the religious leaders of the day. Why? Because, let's be honest, it is hard to hear the truth. It is difficult to hear how our actions or inactions might not be in line with the desires of the Divine. It can touch a sensitive nerve in us when we recognize ourselves in the mirror someone is holding up. It is difficult to admit that we have been wrong instead of being wronged. It is challenging to examine our motives, our intentions, and our actions. It is painful to see how our decisions have caused more pain.
Yet, it is also hard to tell the truth. There is nothing appealing about making people angry or upset. There is nothing pleasing about not pleasing others. There is nothing attractive about speaking up when we know our words and message will not be well received. There is nothing appealing about the disagreements, discord, and disputes that arise when we speak up or do what is right and fair instead of what is popular.
No one knew this better than Jesus did. His baptism was not a one-time event in the Jordan River. His baptism was his life's calling, purpose, and mission of showing, telling, and modeling for others the world and existence in it that God intended...and continues to intend for all of God's people. It is a world and existence where all are seen through the eyes of God. It is a world and existence where all are treated with worth, respect, and dignity. Where all of God's created ones and creation are cared for with gentleness and not taken for granted. Where the highest held and enacted values are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, compassion, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; instead of the held and accepted values of hatred, sorrow, hostility, intolerance, cruelty, indifference, corruption, harshness and self-indulgence.
These were the high ideals of Jesus because these are the ideals of God. The purpose of Jesus' life, mission, and ministry was to give people a foretaste of the world God intends to create through those in whom this world has been entrusted-through all of us. This was the baptismal calling of Jesus.
It is our baptismal calling as well. Jesus believed his work would not be done until this was completed. And it is not. The work must and can continue through us, although there is much work to be done. Let us not give up in disgust, complacency or by being overwhelmed. You and I have our own baptisms to undergo. Although we, like Jesus, may not see it to its completion, may our hearts, minds, and spirits be stirred to carry on the work, mission, and ministry of bringing about the kingdom of God here on earth as it is in heaven.
Blessings, Rev. Shana Johnson, Conference Minister