Luke 4 – Jesus is Baptized, Prays, and then enters Into the Wilderness…
Jesus grew up hearing stories of the Messiah, the one promised to come save Israel and rescue them, the way Moses and Joshua did in days of old.
And he also probably grew up hearing stories from his mother and father who told him about their dreams and about how one day, he would be that messiah, the one to free the people of Israel and bring God’s reign on earth.
Well, I imagine that at some point, Jesus realized that if he WAS going to be the messiah, he was going to be a very different kind of savior than the ones he grew up hearing about in the scriptures.
Because HE was not a military leader like Joshua.
He didn’t hear God in a burning bush like Moses.
And he was far from perfect.
He undoubtedly learned that pretty early on.
And I imagine that if he ever DID get the feeling he was perfect… if he ever got a little too big for his britches,
too convinced that he was there to save the world as a mighty conqueror and as God on earth,
I’m sure that his parents and friends were quick to correct him.
Can’t you just hear the guys on the construction site with Joseph and Jesus, ribbing Jesus when he dropped a hammer off the roof?
“Good reflexes, Messiah.”
“Are you going to fly that thing back up here with the power of the wind?”
“Okay. Well, you better climb down and get it like the rest of us do.”
And can’t you imagine Mary, his mother, telling teenage Jesus,
“You may think you have a handle on all of the scriptures, but can you also get a handle on the mess you left in the living room?”
Jesus knew from an early age that being the Messiah did NOT mean doing everything “right.”
Because what does it mean to do everything “right” anyway?
I recently did a sewing project in collaboration with a friend, and let me tell you, any time you collaborate, you learn very quickly that “right” is relative.
I thought I was doing everything “right,” and that my sewing was close to “perfect,” but I would show her my work and she would hand me the seam ripper and say – it’s going to look all wrong if you do it that way. Rip the seam and do it differently.
And she’d show me, and I’d do exactly what she said, or what I THOUGHT she’s said, and then I’d show her my work, and she’d look at me and hand me the seam ripper again and laugh and say, “How on earth did you think I meant for you to do THAT?”
If 2 people who have the same picture of what something’s supposed to look like can’t even agree on what “perfect” is, how on earth was Jesus supposed to live up to all of Israel’s expectations for what “perfect” looked like?
Jesus knew that he was never going to be “just right” for everyone. That he was never going to be “perfect.”
He was fully human.
And had a human amount of energy and mental capacity and human strength.
He undoubtedly did things many times in his life that others saw as “wrong.”
He also undoubtedly took actions that offended someone or hurt someone.
And I can guarantee that he wasn’t able to help or care for people as well as he wanted to.
He wasn’t perfect.
So why is it that we, who feel called to follow the example of Jesus, feel like it’s OUR job to be perfect?
Jesus knew better early on.
That letting go of perfection meant creating room for God.
And yet so many of us obsess over getting things just right.
And when we don’t, we feel this weight of others’ disappointment.
God’s disappointment, even. And our own disappointment in ourselves.
And we feel ashamed.
And so we have a tendency to hide these vices and imperfections, any temptations or mistakes or failings of character.
But why? We have this example in Luke 4 of a different way of being, and yet we miss it somehow.
We have this example of Jesus, the imperfect young man we call Messiah, who goes to John the Baptist seeking repentance and forgiveness.
Jesus goes to be baptized – to turn his live around and start anew.
Even if we want to claim that Jesus was, by our own definition, somehow perfect, he certainly undoubtedly felt inadequate.
He was never able to heal as many people as he wanted to. There were people he had to turn away, because he simply didn’t have the energy to work another hour of the day.
He knew that he couldn’t do everything for everyone and that sometimes, he made mistakes.
He KNEW that he wasn’t capable of saving everyone and ending all suffering.
And so when he goes to be baptized, he demonstrates that publicly, before a crowd of people – he proclaims to them through this action of baptism that he wants to change his life.
At the time John the Baptist was preaching and baptizing people in the desert, baptism was about repentance –
It was all about confessing faults and then giving those to God and being reborn into a new life.
Not a perfect sinless life, just a new era of life with new possibilities.
So Jesus goes, like many other people, and proclaims, I have let people down, I have made mistakes, and I want a fresh start.
And after doing this, he prays.
And the holy spirit descends on him in bodily form like a dove and hears a voice that says
“You are my child. My beloved. With you I am well pleased.”
The voice doesn’t say – You are the messiah.
It doesn’t say you must be a perfect example for all humanity from now on.
It says I KNOW you. You are mine. You are from me, my child. And I love you.
I love you.
This is the starting place of Jesus ministry.
That moment when he hears God claim him and tell him he’s loved.
Immediately following this profound moment of clarity, Jesus feels called into the wilderness for 40 days.
No doubt to contemplate what this means.
He was professing to the world that he was in need of forgiveness. In need of healing.
And what he heard was not disappointment or condemnation.
God didn’t lecture him about how he needed to get his act together and be a better messiah.
At this moment of public confession, what Jesus hears is I love you.
What do you do with that?
Jesus grew up hearing the stories of a God who destroyed entire cities, entire peoples on account of their mistakes.
Were those stories untrue?
Did the people who wrote them misunderstand God?
It’s a lot to think about.
That God loves us. Without condition. Knowing ALL of who we are. All of the ugly sides. All of the beautiful sides. And everything in between.
Knowing we are flawed. Knowing we have a messy room and that we drop hammers. God loves us.
Knowing that we have betrayed friends. That we have hurt people we love. That we have acted selfishly or rudely. Knowing that we often try to fill those holes in our hearts with money and food and unhealthy relationships.
God loves us.
This is such a puzzling and troubling and life-altering message that Jesus feels drawn into the wilderness to contemplate what it means.
I’m honestly not sure what it means for us. For OUR ministry.
But my invitation to us this week is to contemplate that statement.
You are my beloved.
Not because we look the most put together.
Not because we ARE the most put together.
Not because we did more good deeds than anyone else or got more A’s on our report card.
Not because anything.
There’s no because.
God just loves us.
It’s a lot to think about.
May we enter the wilderness together, letting go of perfection, and making room for God.