Zeus Be Damned: Matthew 3:13-17
#ZeusBeDamned is the Podcast for January 14, 2017. The birth of Zeus says a lot about how the Ancient Greeks viewed their gods. It is in stark contrast to the Baptism of Jesus. What kind of character does God have? Listen to this podcast to find out.: Download it into your phone. #MSAWordfortheDay # MySpiritualAdvisor #GodsCharacter #Selflessness #Service #BaptismoftheLord #Baptism #Discipleship #Zeus #Rhea #Kronos
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For My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 1/15/2017 The Baptism of the Lord.
Please pause this audio and read Matthew 3:13-17.
The Ancient Greek god Zeus has an interesting birth story. He was born of two Titans, Kronos and Rhea. Titans were primeval gods who gave birth to the gods of the pantheon. (hmm, who knew?) Kronos didn’t want any competition for his throne as a god. So, whenever Rhea and he would conceive and give birth to a child, he would swallow the baby god before it had time to grow. It was only when Rhea tricked him into swallowing a rock with swaddling clothes that Zeus was saved the same fate as his previous siblings.
I just want to point out a few things about the character of these gods in this story. First, they are way too human. I suppose what separated them were cosmic powers, but as to character, they were just as bad as us. You have a god who eats his children to prevent them from being born into competition. This is just what Herod did to the babies of Bethlehem to prevent competition for his throne. It was sinister and selfish. Kronos was like Herod.
The life of Zeus is filled with ways that he sought to punish humans and subject them to his cruelty. He fought incessantly with Prometheus about caring for the humans. He sent Pandora to trick her into unleashing evil upon the humans. It is just a series of ugly angry things that Zeus supposedly did to humanity.
I believe that we think of God the Father in Heaven, the true God of the Universe, like he is Zeus and his father, Kronos: petulant, mean, jealous, secretive, devious, and cruel. These qualities and how we view the true God of the Universe could not be farther from the truth. How we know is by this rather embarrassing story we see in the Gospel of Matthew for today’s celebration of the Baptism of the Lord.
The story is embarrassing to the Church because when you think of gods, like Greek or Roman gods, who use power and trickery to gain advantage, it makes no sense for Christ to come and allow himself to be baptized. Why would the Church present a Lord, who we claim is fully God, present himself to John to be baptized for repentance. A perfect God does not need to repent, so he doesn’t need to be baptized with John’s baptism.
What is different about Jesus, frankly about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is that he is qualitatively different than any other god. We can see that because the grammatical construction of the first sentence of this passage for today indicates that Jesus, who did not need to be baptized, went expressly to be baptized. The better translation of this passage would be, “Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John for the purpose of being baptized by John.” So, what gives?
Jesus says that the reason he is being baptized is because it is part of the Father’s plan. The Son of God was born of the Virgin and became man for the express purpose of living the same life that we live, but like it is supposed to be lived. He comes, not for his own purposes, but to do what God wants him to do. So should we. He comes, to do things that are necessary for others, not for himself. So should we. He comes to experience life, even a condemned life of a prisoner on death row, so that he can redeem all life, from the least to the highest. So should we.
We make a big deal of the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus Christ made on the Cross, and we should. Yet, the ultimate sacrifice wasn’t the first sacrifice. His whole arrival, which we just celebrated, is dripping with humble sacrifice. We hear in the hymn from Philippians, “He did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Indeed. In so many small ways throughout the Gospel he showed that he was about restoring what it meant to be human. He was not about elevating himself. He is a God of self-giving, even in the small things.
The Christian life begins in baptism. Here, we see the God of the Universe, through whom all things were made, allow himself to walk into the muddy Jordan River to be baptized by his own creation. He allows it, even asks permission to be baptized, so that he can live every aspect of the life we live. We could stand to follow his example in even the smallest of things like a conversation. Do we truly listen? Do we desire to understand the life of the other person? Are we willing to lay down our right to whatever we claim so that we can save someone else?
The passage has the Father in Heaven speaking to the world by quoting Psalm 2, a psalm that declares the Davidic Kingship forever. He declares that Jesus is not just a Davidic King, but he is the very Son of God, in other words completely God and as we see completely human. He surely has a right, a claim, that everyone should bow before HIM. Yet, here, unlike what we think of when we think of God, he is humbling himself to live our life.
I often quote a saying I learned from my professor, Fr. Larry Hennessey, in seminary. I say like the good Father taught me, “He was born our birth, walked our walk, talked out talk, lived our life, died our death, and was raised to new life with us into heaven.” What I often leave out is what Fr. Hennessey said to us aspiring priests just before he gave that great quote. He said, “Brothers, it is about salvation, you know. That is the enterprise upon which we embark.”
We can call it sucking it up. We can call it taking one for the team. We can call it all kinds of things, but one thing we can claim is that Jesus Christ kept his eye on the mission and the goal of his purpose. He did things that were unnecessary for him, but were important for the salvation of humanity. He didn’t use his station in life, the fact that he is God, to be cruel, hurtful, selfish, or unjust. In fact, he used his station in life to renew what it means to be human. The fact that he wanted to be baptized, “to fulfill all righteousness” meant that our baptism then is imbued with this same meaning.
We are to emulate Christ because he is the first born of what salvation means. We are to repent. We are to use our station to renew the lives of others. We are to be public, honest, forthright, filled with the Holy Spirit, and willing to do what it takes to deliver others. That would include denying our own desires, our own perspectives, and a command that we try to see life from the other person’s point of view. Then, even more, the birth of Jesus Christ and his baptism indicate that we are not just supposed to see things from another’s point of view, but we are also to advocate and work to change their circumstances for the better. If not, then why did the Son of God descend to earth to be human at all? Why subject himself to baptism? Why be the same as us?
The Incarnation of Jesus Christ and his baptism present us with a both/and situation. We are to both evangelize to save the soul and work for justice to renew the body. We are to fill the churches AND make the lives of others better. This is His mission and thus, it is our mission. Zeus be damned, we follow Jesus Christ. Amen.
This audio is under the copyright of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated and may not be used, reduplicated, or distributed for commercial use without the express written consent of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated. My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated, 2017.
Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian