In the Water With Jesus by Rev. Richard Hasselbach
In a classic Peanuts cartoon, we find Lucy, Charlie Brown’s crabby friend, having a particularly terrible day.
“Phooey!” She says.
“What’s the matter?” Her brother Linus asks.
“My life is a drag,” she answers “I'm completely fed up. I never felt so low in all my life.”
“When you’re in a mood like that you should try to think of the things you have to be thankful for.” Linus advises. “Count your blessings!”
“Blessings,” Lucy reply derisively, “Ha! I have no blessings. I can count my blessing on one hand. I never had anything. I will never have anything. I'm nothing. I don’t get half the breaks that other people do. Nothing ever goes right to me! You talk to me about counting my blessings?” She goes on, “You talk to me about being thankful? What do I have to be thankful for?” And she turns away from him.
“Well,” Linus answers her, “for one thing, you have a little brother who loves you.”
Lucy turns and looks at him for a moment and then breaks into tears and hugs him as Linus thinks to himself: “Every now and then I say the right thing!”
All four gospels tell the story of Jesus’ baptism.
John the Baptist was a big deal! Before he arrived on the scene, the voice of prophecy had been silent in Israel for almost 500 years. In John, the Jews again recognized the prophetic spirit announcing God’s immanent, decisive action in history.
John dressed like Elijah - in camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist. He went to the wilderness, a frightening place, but also a sacred place, where God first made Israel his own. John’s prophetic message was simple: “The Kingdom of God draws near. Be prepared. Repent and reform your lives!.”
Sinners by the thousands took the arduous trip into the wilderness to be baptized in the Jordan for the forgiveness of sin. Tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners of all stripes came because John offered them hope. Whoever they were, whatever they had done, it wasn’t too late.
John was not offering “cheap grace.” “Bear fruit worthy of your repentance!” he challenged those who came to him. Repentance demanded a change of behavior. It’s what you do that matters, not what you say, think, or feel.
John knew something was different when he saw Jesus coming for baptism. Jesus was the sinless one. he had nothing to confess, he had no need to repent, and he had no reason to be baptized. In a conversation only recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, John objects: “You should be the one baptizing me!”” Jesus responds: “It must be so for the sake of righteousness.” In other words, Jesus baptism was willed by the Father - part of his plan.
Because by going into the water with the broken, the bedraggled, and the lost, Jesus shows his solidarity with, and love for, all. He carries their burdens and ours into the Jordan, as he will carry them on the cross.
After his baptism, the heavens open and the Spirit descended on Jesus. The opening of the heavens shows that the barrier between heaven and earth is forever removed. The Spirit descending over the Jordan is reminiscent of the Spirit hovering over the waters of creation. In the water with Christ, we are a new creation; recreated in the image of our savior.
Moses led Israel to freedom through at the waters of the Red Sea. So in the Jordan ritually, prefiguring the cross, Jesus saves us from all that enslaves us: our sins, our fears, our addictions, and compulsions. The ultimate answer to all our struggles is our relationship with God in Christ.
We are not in the water with Jesus alone; we are there with each other. We are recipients of grace called also to be the bearers of grace. God wills that his love comes to us through us. We bring His presence to others by loving with his heart seeing with his eyes and acting as his hands.
Who’s in the water with you. Who needs to hear a word of kindness? Who needs to hear, “I love you,” or, “I forgive you”? Who needs your help or encouragement? Who needs your time, your interest, or your attention? How will you respond to them?
My sister Barbara died of ovarian cancer 21 years ago. She spent her final weeks in Calvary Hospital, a hospice in the Bronx. The closer Barbara got to death, the less she could do for herself. One night she was spitting up bile, and I was wiping it from her mouth and chin to keep her comfortable. Barbara looked up at me with grateful eyes and, in a frail voice, said: “You’re good to have around.”
For 21 years I have treasured those words: simple words spoken after I had done next to nothing; I just wiped a bit of drool.
Our baptismal calling is to speak words and do acts of kindness, encouragement, and love. We are called to notice each others need and, like Linus, say the right thing; we are called to be brothers and sisters who are “good to have around.”