The Forerunner John and Knowing One’s Limits

“Yet as John is baptizing, Jesus approaches, perhaps also to sanctify the baptizer, and certainly to bury all the old Adam in the water, but before these things and for the sake of these things to sanctify the Jordan. As indeed he was spirit and flesh, so he initiates by the Spirit and the water. The baptizer does not accept it; Jesus debates [with him]. ‘I need to be baptized by you,‘ the lamp says to the sun, the voice to the Word, the friend to the bridegroom, the one above all born of women to the firstborn of all creation, the one who leaped in the womb to the one worshiped in the womb, the one who was and will be the Forerunner to the one who was and will be manifest.

I need to be baptized by you...’”

(Gregory Nazianzus, Festal Orations, pp. 91-92)

Many Patristic writers were particularly taken by the dialogue between Jesus and John the Forerunner when Christ came to the Jordan River to be baptized by John.  It is a dialogue only St. Matthew reports in Matthew 3:13-17 –

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

The Patristic writers saw in John great humility as he recognizes his Lord and Master.  They saw John as the creature being awed and fearful at the presence of his Creator.  They saw John marveling at how the sinless One desires to be baptized for the remission of sins.  John recognizes his own need for salvation and God’s grace, but submits to God’s will even if he can’t fathom its depth, meaning or purpose.  They saw John’s hand trembling as he but a servant places his hand on the head of the Master to submerge the Creator under the waters of His own creation.  They saw John worried about whether this was the right thing to do but knowing he as servant needed to obey what Christ the Lord said.

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