by Christopher Harbin

Beginning with Baptism
Christopher B. Harbin
Isaiah 42:1-9; Matthew 3:13-17; Acts 1:21-26

''All beginnings are hard.'' So begins one of Chaim Potok's novels. Indeed, the beginning of that novel is hard to read, as it traces how difficult making a beginning can be. A young boy struggles to make a new beginning in his life against the flow of tradition which encapsulates him. To struggle against the flow of how life has been organized around him is a daunting challenge. It is not for the faint of heart. In our walk of faith, how different is our challenge to make faith a new beginning?

John came preaching a new beginning. Out in the open countryside of Judea, he called on Jews to begin a new life in repentance. They were to prepare themselves for the coming of Messiah's reign by changing the way they lived. In repentance, they were to begin a new life as converts to an authentic faith in Yahweh. Far beyond following Judaism's prescriptive faith, they were to begin living according to the highest ethics of God's will, treating one another as loved by God.

For many, John's words made little sense. After all, John was preaching to the folks who were already God's family. They were ready for Messiah-long past ready! They were the people of Israel. They were the Chosen of Yahweh's promise and covenant! They already had the Torah-God's instructions on how to live and how to rectify things when they stepped out of line. They were more than ready for Messiah to come and throw off the yoke of Roman political oppression. They were ready for God's political solution to their individual and national plight.

Then comes John the Baptist, telling them that they need to become Jews! Why was he asking them to become what they already were? John wanted them to convert. That's what baptism was all about. It was a rite of initiation, converting to a new religious identity. It was how a Gentile convert would declare before the world that he was relinquishing his old way of ...

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