The question arises again this Sunday as the season of Epiphany leads us to ponder the events surrounding Jesus’ baptism. Why did Jesus compel John to baptise him? Was it even necessary? John baptised people for the “remission of sin” – a kick in the pants that turned them towards embracing the reign of God. Jesus was the epitome of those who were oriented this way – so no wonder John balked at his request, wishing to submit to being baptised by Jesus instead.
Jesus’ enigmatic answer is that his baptism was necessary “to fulfill all righteousness.” And indeed it was sealed by divine signs of approval in the dove and the Voice. Read the whole account here. But what does “to fulfill all righteousness” mean? If we can find a satisfying answer to this, we have answered the opening question.
I won’t go into it here but I think the answer is more widely focused than what Christology (theology of the person of Jesus) – as important as it is – can answer. Somehow it catches up John, the popular movement that surrounded him, the story of Israel, the role Jesus is now beginning to play and an invitation that bridges cultures and millenia. Hopefully I’ll work it out by Sunday!