The Armchair Theologian

The New Testament preserves a strange incident which offers a key to understanding the internal radicalism of the Gospel message. Jesus is walking beside the Jordan River with his cousin, the wandering prophet John, and asks to be baptised. Initially John resists this request saying “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matt. 3:13). John seems to know that Jesus is more than a relative making a fleeting visit. Does John sense that Jesus is ‘God in the flesh’? At the very least, he knows Jesus is the Messiah; the one for whom John and Israel have been waiting. Why would God’s anointed need to be purified of sins? The request must have seemed an affront to his deeply ingrained religious attitudes. Wasn’t God always holy? Jesus’ answer is fittingly obscure given this assumption: “Let it be so now; it is proper for us…

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