Time to get back to Luke. We haven’t made a lot of progress through the Gospel so far!
Chapter 3 continues with the account of Jesus’ baptism.
I am writing about this, to the extraordinary sound of rain outside. Thank the Lord! It is raining. We have had such a long drought, the sound and smell of rain is such an amazing thing: refreshing our place, outwardly; giving some sense of hope, inwardly.
This is a story of water and its symbolic power to make things new.
In each of the Gospels, the baptism of Jesus is a launching pad for his mission and ministry amongst his people. We could say that Jesus is baptized into and for his mission. He is immersed in water, and nourished by this surrounding presence of God. He goes from this event into a life of immersion in God’s way, which he called God’s reign or kingdom.
The narrative is simple enough, but many little puzzles are present still.
Historically, Jews baptized proselytes—people of other nations and other faiths, who now chose to become members of the Jewish faith and nation.
Baptism was like a second birth into this family and tradition of faith in God.
Why then were Jewish people being baptized by John?
Why was Jesus baptized by John?
This puzzle is posed clearly in Matthew’s Gospel. Furthermore, there John expresses some embarrassment about baptizing Jesus. He, John, feels that perhaps he needs to be baptized by Jesus. Luke has none of this.
What we have is simply this:
Jesus identifies with John’s call to the people. He includes himself.
Thus, Jesus identifies with the people. Like them, he comes to be baptized.
Jesus is with John, in the desert place. The significance of place here continues.
There is a heavenly affirmation of Jesus: he is God’s beloved.
There is a bodily experience of the Spirit, God’s active presence with him.
It is not clear who else saw it, or experienced it, but for Jesus this is a nourishing, life-giving moment of clear direction and presence.
The appearance of the dove has many possible meanings, not least the resonance with the story of Noah, where a dove comes to him as sign of new life, a ‘new world’ beyond the desolation of the flood.
Then follows the Genealogy. Here again the contrast with Matthew is strong. I can’t write much here, but just to say a few words about its significance.
After this baptism, it is vital to orientate Jesus with his people, his heritage—as would be done with anyone welcomed into the community, by birth or by baptism.
Like has the Genealogy in the reverse order to Matthew’s. Luke begins with the father of Jesus, ‘as was thought’, Joseph, and traces it back to Adam. Matthew begins with Abraham (not Adam) and traces it through to Mary. The amazing presence of four women in Matthew’s genealogy is not repeated here. Luke has only males, and the list is not divided into groups, as Matthew’s is. The focus on David and Abraham is not here. Luke is not here seeking to stress Jesus’ Jewishness.
Rather, Luke has his own purpose, and his own little surprise. He takes his genealogy back to Adam ‘the son of God’. Again we see the stress on the ‘universal’ significance of Jesus.
It is surprising that Nathan is mentioned with David, rather than Solomon.
There are other things which might be mentioned.
My interest is simply to consider the significance of this genealogy, placed here, at this point in the Gospel.
Jesus is presented as an adult male, now 30 years old, and about to begin his ministry. He is therefore one who may take up the role of a ‘rabbi’ or teacher. So these are his people, and this is his place. This is his heritage. But along with the Jewish and local significance there are other considerations. There is something of universal significance here, which draws in the non-Jewish human family—all the children of Adam ‘the son of God’.
Baptism is his launching pad for mission. We will follow his story. We are invited to follow his way.