Brad Reads the Gospels: Matthew 3:13-17

And now, for the first time, the man Jesus appears on the stage.

13Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.

14But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?

15And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.

16And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:

17And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

So here we see John directly establishing his subservient position to the Man Himself.  How, he asks, shall the lesser one annoint the greater?  There’s a Buddhist parable about a monkey reaching for the reflection of the Moon in a still pond.  John is the reflection, and the one standing before him asking for the baptism of water is the true celestial glory.

The answer Jesus gives is “because it is right and proper that it should be so.”  The usually-dubious Message transliteration puts it like this:

“Do it. God’s work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism.”

Baptism is a symbolic gesture.  Most immediately, it is a washing, living water sweeping our impurities away.  It’s also, especially the way the Baptists do it with the deep-down dunking, a symbolic death and rebirth.  The sign of Osiris Slain, the sign of Osiris Risen*.  The death of the old self, what Saint Paul literally calls the old corpse hanging on our backs, the sinful man, and the birth of the new man dedicated to walking the Way of Light and Truth.

In short, a two-fold reminder to Christians of what happened on Skull Hill, and what happened three days later in the tomb of the Arimathean.  For the Christ Himself, it is a foreshadowing of those things.  Before He can begin His work, he must perform the ritual of cleansing and rebirth (rebirth through water, of course, is also a part of all that Hero With a Thousand Faces monomyth business, as is the passage through the underworld), and it should be done by the Baptizer.  A parallel might perhaps be drawn with the annointing of David the King at the hands of Samuel.

But what’s really interesting is what happens when the Baptism occurs.  The anointing of Jesus comes not just from the hands of John and the sacred waters of the Jordan, but from the fires of Heaven.  And here we see, for the first time, the sacred mystery of the Trinity.  Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the three facets of God, present and unified, but separate, in this one place and time.

The Anointed One having been anointed, only one obstacle remains between Him and the beginning of His work: the Wilderness, and the temptations found there.  Just like in the Hero’s Journey.

*We do not have a monopoly on the idea of the resurrected god.  Osiris, Mithras, Balder the Beautiful, the Green Man, Apollo, Ra…There are many divine figures who have passed through the underworld.  Interestingly, it was Tolkien’s pointing out the way Jesus fit into this mythical structure that really caught C.S. Lewis’ attention.  Lewis talks more on the subject in his various works, and it’s quite interesting reading.  He regarded Christianity as “the myth that was true.”  It’s a conception that dovetails with one of my favorite quotes from the worthy Doctor Inazo Nitobe’s Bushido (bolding mine):

It is with ecclesiastical methods and
with the forms which obscure the teachings of Christ, and not with the
teachings themselves, that I have little sympathy. I believe in the
religion taught by Him and handed down to us in the New Testament, as
well as in the law written in the heart. Further, I believe that God
hath made a testament which maybe called “old” with every people and
nation,–Gentile or Jew, Christian or Heathen.

And of course that’s where the Hero’s Journey bit comes in. It’s all one story, from the beginning of time. Like Roger Zelazny’s Amber, the One True Story casts an infinite number of shadows.


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