Then Jesus came to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.” – Matthew 3:13-15 (NRSV)
John is rattled. “This isn’t right,” he sputters. “I shouldn’t baptize you, Jesus. You should baptize me.”
But Jesus says, “Baptize me anyway. It fulfills God’s purpose.”
God’s purpose that the one who needs no washing should be washed. That the one sent to us should be a sibling, not a judge. That creation should be healed not from high up, but from down low.
So John consents.
This isn’t the only time the Gospels report a protest against divine humility. Remember the Last Supper? “No, no,” poor Peter cries when Jesus arrives at his feet with towel and bowl. “This is wrong, I should wash you!”
But Jesus says, “You can’t be mine unless you let me serve you, unless you’ve been bewildered by my bended knee.”
So Peter consents.
Sometimes I think Christian life consists not so much in right thinking and good deeds, but in a flustered objection to divine humility and a daily consent to the unthinkable. We’re meant to be a disoriented people, permanently upended by the undignified ministrations of a servant God.
So that if we immerse ourselves in our neighbors’ need, if we bend to wash their feet, it’s not for duty’s sake. It’s because we’ve lost our bearings, the old ones that always urged us up. Now, we who have been so vastly loved, so sweetly served, have no bearings at all. Except for Christ. Who heads us down.
Bewilder us, Jesus, with your bended knee. Make your downward way our own.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.