Again, I am focusing on the subversive nature of Matthews gospel. And here again we are confronted with a surprising couple of facts. The first is that the announcement and annointing of the Christ, the Messianic heir to the throne of David, the King of Kings, happens out in the desert. And the one who does the annointing is this crazy prophet, who lives on the fringe, both culturally and locationally. John is a weird ascetic, who preaches out on the margins, and yet the crowds come to him.
Now the fact that this drama has already been entirely outside of Jerusalem is very subversive in a Jewish culture. Jerusalem is the center of their faith. It is the house of God, the promised kingdom, the home of David and the promise of Israel. This is where the people of God come to celebrate the feasts and to worship and to be forgiven of sins. And yet, out in the desert places, their lives a priest that preaches repentance. And the people wind up going to the margins, to find redemption.
Not only that, but this illustrates another point. When one works with the marginalised and the poor, particularly when one does so exclusively, you always get the questions, or accusations, "what about those that are not poor or marginalised don't they need Jesus too?" Well I believe this passage shows us that when you work on the fringe, away from the mainstream, and the center of power, and privlidge. When you work away from the center of worship, and religious heriarchy. These people actually come to the fringe, they make their way there. Even the leaders, the priests, the big shots. The reason why is when those that were hopeless have hope, those that think they have hope realize its all conditional, and they find themselves wanting that kind of hope that can shine in such darkness. Jesus, and John started on the margins as this is what opens the eyes of those at the center.
Again subversively Matthew tells of John's interaction with the Pharisees and Sadducees. Lets just say he wasn't very nice! YOU SNAKES, WHO WARNED YOU OF YOUR IMPENDING JUDGEMENT? DON'T COME OUT HERE AND TRY AN PLAY AT BEING SPIRITUAL, YOU MUST ACTUALLY CHANGE YOUR LIVES! hmmm not very pc John. Imagine being a first century Jew and reading about this prophet that gives no esteem to the leaders and teacher of your day. This mad man out in the desert in skins, and eating bugs. The hermit out in the wastelands, condemning the religious elite of the day.
And then Jesus comes to him, and asks to be baptised. John doesn't want to, it isn't right, you are the lamb of God and I am not worthy to tie your shoe, let alone baptise you. But Jesus insists, saying it is neccesary for righteousness. What does that mean? It means Jesus would not ask us to follow the course He did not take himself. Jesus enters the symbolic death and resurection, and then experiences the empowering of the Spirit for ministry, exactly in the same way he asks us to. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords, is so commited to this new way of leadership that he submits to baptism, and waits for God's Spirit before he goes into ministry. The subversive, revolutionary point is simple. Jesus will not ask us to do what he has not already done, even ritually. The new covenant was started with the creator of the world, entering into our new life path. And then the good shepherd says, follow me.
I love that.