Through the water

We are baptized just like Jesus was baptized. So, what does his baptism mean for him?

Full Text: 


Through the water


January 8, 2017 – Luke 3:15-17, 21-22




            One of my favorite baptism stories opens the book, The Power of One, by Bruce Courtenay.  He tells of a young boy in South Africa, called, “PK.”  PK is English.  He has a Zulu nursemaid and nanny.  Then, his mother has a nervous breakdown.  So, he is sent off to attend a boy’s school.


            During his first night there, some older boys drag PK out of bed.  They are not English.  They are Afrikaaner, descended from Dutch immigrants, and since the Boar Wars have been enemies of the English. They stand him before their kangaroo court.  They blindfold him, accuse him of various crimes, and sentence him to death.  They drag him into the shower area.  They make him take off his pajamas and kneel on the ground.  As he whimpers and cries, the older boys stand around him and urinate on him.


            After they have gone, PK dries himself off with his pajamas and, since he does not know what a shower is, he goes back to bed.  This begins a long series of nights in which he wets the bed.  Now, the older boys have even more reason to torment him.  He is not only English – he is a bed-wetter!


            At long last, May comes and with it the end of the term.  PK goes back home.  When he arrives, he pours out his heart to his beloved Zulu nanny.  The nanny sends for a great Zulu medicine man, Inkosi-Inkosikasi – the last son of a great Zulu warrior.  He was born of a 14-year-old girl, not to be a warrior like his father, but to be a man of healing.


            Now he is nearly 100 years old.  He arrives in the village in a cloud of dust kicked up by big, black Buick.  The women fawn over him.  He commands them to get five chickens, which he then puts to sleep in five circles on the ground. Everyone is amazed!  Then he calls the boy to his side.  He tells him it is no special magic, but it is a trick which he promises to teach the boy.


            After then nanny recounts the boy’s trials and tribulations in moving fashion, the end of the day is near.  Inkosi-Inkoskasi tells PK that he will be in the boy’s dreams that night and the next day they will deal with the unfortunate business of the “night water.”


            That night, the medicine man is indeed in his dreams.  The next day, the two sit together.  The old man speaks.


            “Last night you and I stood together at a place of three waterfalls.  When I tell you, I want you to close your eyes and return there.  I want you to stand on a rock at the top of the three falls.  It is night and the falls are thundering.  You are a young warrior who has just killed his first lion.  You are not afraid of the lion.  You are not afraid of the thundering falls.  You are not afraid of the demons of the dark night.


            “I want you to say the number 3 to yourself and dive off the first falls. As you are swept over the second falls you are to say the number 2.  As you come up to the surface of the third falls, you are to swim to the first black rock.  Counting backwards from ten to one, you are to step from rock to rock to the other side.  Dive now, my young warrior!”


And so he did.  He dove off the first falls.  He was swept quickly over the second.  When he came to the third, he swam with confidence to the first rock.  When he reached the last rock and stepped on the pebble beach, the man spoke to him again.


“We have crossed the night water to the other side, and it is done.”  The boy opened his eyes and the man concluded.


“When you need me you may come to the night country and I will be waiting.  I will always be there.  You can find me if you go to the place of the three waterfalls and the ten stones across the river.


“Now, let me show you the trick of the chicken sleep.”


After the break is over, PK returns to school.  The bed-wetting stops, but the treatment of older boys does not – he is still English, after all!  Yet now when he stands before them, he does not cry, and that is disconcerting to them.  He does not cry, because when they threaten him, he closes his eyes and goes to the place of the three waterfalls and ten stones across the river.




Jesus has just come up out of the water – not the night water, of course, but the baptismal waters of the Jordan River.  And while he is at prayer, the heavens open, the Holy Spirit comes down in the form of a dove, and a voice speaks – “You are my Son; you are my beloved; you are my pride and joy!”


I imagine that is a place Jesus returns to often in his ministry.  From the banks of the Jordan, he goes into the wilderness where Satan says to him, “You must be famished!  If you really are God’s Son, you can easily turn this stone into a loaf of bread.” 


And Satan says, “You have so much potential.  You can do so much good in the world.  I will give the power to do so if you will only recognize me as the greatest authority in your life.”


And Satan says, “Of course you are God’s son.  You can prove it me to and to everyone hear simply by throwing yourself off the top of the temple and letting God’s angels catch you.”


Each time, Jesus remembers who he truly is and why he has come and to whom is owed his full allegiance.


            Satan departs.  But it doesn’t stop there, of course.  The Pharisees oppose him. The disciples misunderstand him.  The crowds are demanding of him.  When his hour comes, he is abandoned and betrayed and denied.  And there is that temptation – “If you are the Son of God, save yourself!”


            Each time, I believe, Jesus returns to his baptism.  He returns to those waters to remember who he really is – not who the world tells him he is, not who he is tempted to be, but who he truly is in God’s eyes.  He returns again and again to hear the words spoken at his baptism – “You are my Son; you are my beloved; you are my pride and joy!”




            There is no doubt about who Jesus is.  If he doubts it, he can return to his baptism.  And if we doubt who we are, we too can return to our baptism.


            When the world says, “You can’t be a son of God.  You don’t do the right things. You are successful enough.  You haven’t accomplished enough.  You haven’t proven yourself,” can say, “I am a son of God.  I have been adopted by God in baptism.  That is all the proof I need of God’s love.”


            When the world says, “You can’t be a daughter of God.  You don’t have the right things – the right address, the right job, the right education, the right family,” you can say, “I am a daughter of God.  I have been adopted by God in baptism.  God’s love is the only thing I need.”


            When the world accuses us and spits in our face and tries to shame us, and says, “You can’t be a child of God because you are worthless,” we can remember our baptism. We can go back to the place of baptismal waters.  We can return and again hear the baptismal word – “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And we can say, “I am a child of God. I have been cleansed in the waters of baptism.  I am worthwhile because my whole life belongs to God and God loves me.”


            That is the good news of our baptism. It is the good news of Jesus’ baptism. For just as we are baptized, he is baptized.  He is God’s Son.  He is God’s Beloved.  He is God’s pride and joy.  And when we return to our baptismal waters, he is there for us.