Reading for Wednesday, June 13: Matthew 3
In Matthew 3, Matthew introduces us to the ministry of John the Baptist, who calls Israel to repentance in light of the Kingdom’s nearness. John emerges as a wild figure, with camel’s hair clothes and the smell of the desert in his hair. The call to repentance usually comes to us in similar fashion: unexpectedly, violently, disturbing our normal rhythms of malaise with a turbulent call to reorient our lives around God’s call. John’s message is an ethical one: “Get your lives right as a sign of God’s Kingdom rule!” Though he’s long since passed on to glory, John’s message still echoes on the desert wind. Will we repent? Or will we continue to go our own way, seeking to live life on our own terms?
Baptism is the expression of this inward repentance. The Pharisees and Sadducees of John’s day denied their need for repentance, treasuring their status as Abraham’s children. But John attacks this spiritual haughtiness: “I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham,” (v9). What God desires is humility and repentance. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice…” (Hosea 6:6).
Jesus presents Himself to John for baptism, which has always confused us. Surely Jesus doesn’t need to repent. Yet, He willfully chooses to identify with humanity. Jesus himself tells us that he does this to fulfill all righteousness. By identifying with humanity, Jesus will make the righteousness of God available to us. In this scene, all three members of the Trinitarian God are present — Father, Son, and Spirit — signifying the importance of the moment. The Father echoes the coronation song of Psalm 2: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Jesus, now anointed for his ministry, will journey into the desert for his temptation.