Jesus changes the direction of all our religious quests. We had convinced ourselves that by our careful observation we could be righteous, but we had only just begun. We hade barely gotten to the beginning when we thought we had arrived at the end.
“John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.”
John helped the people realize they could begin. Clean off the old and embrace a new beginning! You better at least try since God’s Chosen One is going to show up any minute, and his baptism will be of fire. And his baptism will not just change you; it will change the whole world. “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.”
We still spend most of our time getting ready to begin. There’s a lot of repentance needed in this world, yes; but what we too often don’t remember is that righteousness starts only after repentance. Feeling bad that we were bad. Feeling hopeless that we could ever be good. These pass for righteousness in a world as crooked as ours. But Jesus came to fulfill all righteousness.
“Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.”
I like the old language here which captures the insult to John’s sensibilities. John must suffer this reversal of roles. Jesus the one for whom he prepared the way would come to be baptized by him? Yes, suffer this cousin. Permit it to be so. Allow me to show you what my Father really means.
Jesus enters the waters of sin and makes them clean. The ritual that most would use to begin again, again; Jesus uses to fulfill ALL righteousness. After this beginning with John, he went around our world completing things, making them whole, healing broken things, making them sound, finding lost pieces, replacing them to their proper places.
Baptism is a beginning, yes, but for Jesus it was already the end. “And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
To fulfill all righteousness was to be revealed as who he was. Repentance was more than turning away from sin, something Jesus could not do since he had no sin to turn from; for Jesus repentance was turning to the Father and his love. And so it is with the Son and so it is with us, his younger siblings.
Don’t turn only to let sin see your back; turn to let God see your face. Give yourself to God’s love. Be beloved. Fulfill all righteousness.