Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Baptist


After three days our pilgrimage left Jerusalem and dropped about 3,000 feet to Jericho, which at 1,200 feet below sea level is the lowest spot on earth. Through complicated checkpoints our bus crossed the Jordan River into the country of Jordan. We had to change buses and drivers and guides. Then we walked a hot, dusty trail to this spot on the River where John baptized Jesus. I stooped and scooped water over my head three times and felt cooled and close to Jesus.
In Matthew 3:1-12 John the Baptist is harsh and threatening as he demands, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." In Matthew 11:1-12 he sends disciples from prison to ask Jesus if he is the one John has been expecting. John has been expecting a Messiah who will be the agent of God's wrath and retribution. By echoing Isaiah's prophecy, Jesus shows John that he is initiating the messianic era, but with saving miracles and concern for the poor.
The rule of God which Jesus inaugurates is powered by God's gracious love. Mark and Luke call it "the kingdom of God." Matthew, following the Jewish practice of substituting some metaphor for God's holy name, calls it "the kingdom of Heaven." They are all talking about God's ruling the world with an overwhelming love.
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