Prepare the way for the Lord… (Matthew 3-4)
October 24, 2010
Matthew 3-4 is a bit of a whirlwind. At the end of chapter 2 Jesus is a child just returned from exile, but then we are launched straight into the beginning of his ministry. By the end of chapter 4 he is preaching the good news to great crowds and healing all kinds of afflictions.
To inaugurate this new phase we meet John the Baptist. Now here is a man living for no one but God. He wears camel-hair and a leather belt and eats locusts and honey. 3:1 tells us he “appeared in the wilderness”, which makes him sound even more wild. I imagine him with a massive beard and a slightly wired expression. Now I’ve heard a lot of Christians talk about being counter-culture, but I can’t help thinking if he popped up in a local church today he wouldn’t be taken entirely seriously. But then he doesn’t go to the synagogues does he? The people come to him, flock to him and to his news that “the kingdom of heaven is near.” His news offers hope and his baptism a fresh start.
Enter Jesus. What do you say when the Word made flesh asks you to baptise him? This is the moment in this chapter that really struck me today. The two sentences exchanged between John and Jesus. At the beginning of Luke’s gospel we are told that these two men are cousins, both born in exceptional circumstances; John to the elderly and apparently barren Elizabeth and Jesus to the maiden Mary. John is said to have leapt in the womb when the pregnant Mary entered. Knowing this adds a tenderness to their exchange 30 years later at the river Jordan. When had they last seen each other? Had they grown up together? Had they studied together? Prayed together? Had John witnessed those elusive years between childhood and ministry of which we have little record today? Or had they never met until this moment? Either way I sense a connection, a mutual knowing. A knowing of who each other were, and perhaps what was to come for both of them. I find it very moving.
When Jesus returns from exile in the desert there is news that John has been arrested. A hint of his own future destiny. How did he take the news? We are not told. But we are told that he withdraws to Galilee, where he is to call his first disciples and begin his ministry. Are these events linked? Is John’s arrest an impetus for his own emergence? I don’t know. But I like to remember that Jesus was a member of a family. He was special, so special, but still he was ordinary somehow. He had cousins and aunts. When I think of him this way he becomes more real to me. And that can only be a good thing.