Jesus’ Baptism as Social Protest (Part 1 of 3)

Jesus’ Baptism as Social Protest (Part 1 of 3) January 4, 2022

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Our reading this week is from Luke 3:15-17, 21-22:

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire . . . Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”

This week, we’re beginning a new calendar year and we are also in the season after Epiphany. Jesus’ baptism in Luke compiles several passages from the Hebrew scriptures, beginning with the story of the inauguration of the ancient King David:

“I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me, You are my son; today I have become your Father.” (Psalms 2:7)

This inauguration happened in the context of opposition by foreign oppressors of Israel.

“The kings of the earth set themselves,

and the rulers take counsel together,

against the LORD and his anointed.” (Psalms 2:2 cf. 2:10)

The story of Jesus’ baptism also echoed two passages from Isaiah:

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations . . . He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching. (Isaiah 42:1-4, emphasis added.)

“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit [feminine] of wisdom [sophia] and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness [justice] he shall judge [deliver] the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth. ”(Isaiah 42:1-4)

The one “in whom I am well pleased” was to be associated with the world of establishing justice on the earth for the marginalized and oppressed. And the one on whom the spirit of the Lord rested would deliver the poor and bring equity for the meek. In both Matthew’s sermon on the mount and Luke’s sermon on the plain, the reign of God is proclaimed as belonging to the poor, while the earth is the inheritance of the meek, those typically walked on by the powerful and privileged.

These associations set us up to understand Jesus’ baptism in a new way.

We’ll begin to unpack that, next.

(Read Part 2)

About Herb Montgomery
Herb Montgomery, director of Renewed Heart Ministries, is an author and adult religious re-educator helping Christians explore the intersection of their faith with love, compassion, action, and societal justice. You can read more about the author here.

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