Each January I feel like I have a new beginning. This is the window when I’m going to distinguish myself from the person I was last year. Do you do that too? This year, we are going to be different people.
And it’s not just to be distinct from what we were last year – it’s also to stand out from the others around us in some way. It’s like a friend’s recent comment– she had started a triathlon training a few months ago. Which is no small thing of course- it requires her to be in the gym working out regularly. But she was grousing because of the surge of people who crowd the gym throughout January.
Underneath her comment was a sense of irritation that somehow her distinctiveness was being threatened. SHE was different somehow – she’d been working out at least 4-6 weeks before the first of the year. These Johnny come lately’s were not the same as she was. Instead of being pleased – wanting to cheer them on – she felt irritated.
I recognized that frustrated desire immediately. Because it’s often something I’ve felt too. It’s an uncomfortable pattern.
My dad had a fairly large pest control business and from the age of 15 on, I spent most of my afternoons and all summer working for his business – spraying houses. But I made sure that the customers understood that I was the owner’s daughter. I didn’t want there to be any confusion about my true identity. I wasn’t just some hourly worker – I was there with some higher credentials.
I wanted people to know I was different Special from the other people who may have sprayed their house. As if they cared.
My friend at the gym, my adolescent self, the various ways we distinguish ourselves or jockey for positions. I think they all have something to do with the text many of us will hear this Sunday: The Baptism of Jesus.
Our desires to seem distinct – different – better – more worthy perhaps than those around us. When we do this we are about as far from Jesus as we can get.
Jesus makes his way to John the Baptist to stand in the sinner’s line. The son of God emerges from obscurity to take his place behind the adulterer and in front of the liar. He comes to be baptized.
No wonder his cousin John blusters and hesitates, “Why are you here? You don’t need to be baptized!” But Jesus doesn’t yield.
Lots of shock value here – but perhaps the biggest is Jesus’ willingness to be misunderstood, mistaken, misinterpreted – because he is so determined to show that God is with us. Emmanuel – is with all of us, even the worst of us – from the very first public appearance in the river to the last public appearance on the cross. There is no place humanity goes that Jesus isn’t prepared to be found there as well.
What a difference from most of the people I know. What a difference from most of the lessons I’ve been taught. The great irony is that most Christians instead of growing more open to others we can become more exclusive. We want to be with folks just like us.
Some of us couldn’t have a conversation with a tea party candidate without belittling and berating. Others of us have a hard time being friends with a left leaning, vegan eating, off the gird living activist without a certain amount of eye-rolling, and behind the back comment making.
And many of us somehow believe it’s our right to prove our intellectual prowess by bullying and proving ourselves. WE are somehow more rigorous, more curious, deeper somehow than the average bear.
But all these little patterns of separation matter. Just as much as they mattered at the Jordon River.
If the Son of God can so embrace our humanity and can so identify with us in his baptism – waiting in line with a group of sinners to have a wild-eyed locust eating man dunk him under the water – then as people who profess to follow Christ it seems we must learn to identify ourselves with others too.
When Jesus identified with humanity it wasn’t with the good against the bad, the Romans against the Jews, the straights against the gays, the fundamentalists against the liberals.
Jesus stands in line.
Jesus stands in line with all humanity who ever wanted to be right with their God. If we want to follow him, then I suggest we get in line. Right there with him, her, and Jesus.