This coming Sunday is the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time for Lectionary Cycle C. In yesterday’ post we discussed the biblical and Lucan use of the imagery of fire. Today we will consider the imagery of baptism. “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!” (v.50) The word baptizō used here is the same as that used for water baptism elsewhere in the NT. However, clearly Jesus is not referring to a water baptism (Luke 3:21-22) as that has already occurred.

The verbal form of the word means to “plunge” offering several possible meanings:

  • Jesus’ plunge into humanity (the Incarnation) is completed with Jesus’ experience of human death
  • At the end of the journey, Jesus will plunge into the fullness of the Father’s will as he willingly accepts “death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8)

Jesus’ language in Luke echoes what we hear in the Gospel of Mark when the apostles James and John ask to be seated at Jesus’ right and left when he enters his glory. Jesus responds: “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mk 10:38) This saying in Mark comes on the heels of Jesus’ prediction of his own suffering and death in Mk 10:32-34. If Luke has adopted this same meaning then “baptism” here refers to the Passion and death of Jesus and is likely to reflect inundation of the waters of divine judgment in floods to wash away the stain of sin (cf. Ps. 18:4, 16; 42:7; 69:1–2; Isa. 8:7–8; 30:27–28; Jon. 2:3–6). This idea of the cleansing action of baptism – because of the death and resurrection of Jesus – is clear in NT writings (1 Pt 3:20, 1 Cor 6:11, Eph 5:26, Hb 10:22, Acts 2:38 and 22:16).

More to the point, the baptism-death of Christ connection is made clear in the NT:

  • Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection” (Romans 6:3-5).
  • You were buried with him [Jesus] in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col 2:12).

The expression “how great is my anguish” indicates the cost of the cross for Jesus – but the entire referent of “until it is accomplished!” reminds us to be clear about what is being accomplished. Usually this Greek word for “completed” (teleō) is used of “completing” or “fulfilling” a prior written word: the law of the Lord (2:39); the prophets (18:31); scripture (22:37 & Ac 13:29). The verses about fulfilling “the prophets” and “scriptures” refer not only to Jesus’ passion and death, but as later NT passages makes clear what is being fulfilled, or completed, is our being raised to new life in Christ. As well, the Reign of God, is beginning to break into the human sphere.

Image: Created by AXY, License: CC BY-NC 4.0

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