Baptism and Kenosis  

Posted by Joe Rawls in ,

The Baptism of Jesus, which is liturgically commemorated today in the Western churches, can be interpreted in several ways: as a theophany, or manifestation of God (and a fully Trinitarian manifestation at that); as Jesus' institution of the sacrament of Baptism; as Jesus setting a good example for his followers; as proof that Jesus started out as a disciple of John the Baptist (this latter sometimes gets overblown by liberal theologians).

Another interpretation of the baptism is that it was an act of divine kenosis, or self-emptying. Fr Mariusz Majewski, a Roman Catholic priest serving in the diocese of Boise, Idaho, takes this tack in a post on his blog Talks about God.

Kenosis is the general idea that God accepts some limitations on his divine powers and attributes in order to more fully unite in love with his creation. It is a recurring theme in Anglican theology, closely linked to interpretations of the incarnation of God in Jesus, his resurrection from the dead, and his atonement for sin.


In the mystery of the Incarnation, of God becoming flesh, one of us in all things but sin, we touch and experience the very mystery of God. St Paul, speaking about that in his letter to the Philippians, says that Jesus "though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness...he humbled himself (Philippians 2:6-8). God's humility...Paul speaks here of the "kenosis" of God, of the humbling of God, who for our sake was willing to come down to our dirt, to become flesh in order to save us from the power of death. In another place St Paul says that Christ became "sin" for us. God comes down in Jesus Christ and lowers himself to the point of accepting our human nature in order to heal it.

...The first public deed of Jesus' ministry is not some magnificent deed, some miraculous deed, but a simple baptism! Jesus does that in order to show us that his mission was to take upon himself all of our sins in order to save us from them.

This is precisely the irony, the surprise of the story--that the first move, the first public deed of the sinless Son of God is to stand shoulder to shoulder with us who are sinners. This is the core of the revolutionary message of Christianity--that God comes down to us to be with us, that God is Emmanuel. God, the creator of heaven and earth, the supreme God, the most holy God, the powerful deity, is a God of love, a God who is interested in the lot of his creatures, a God who is willing to go to the extreme in order to save what he had created.

The Baptism of Jesus is the very first act of the drama of Jesus' public ministry. The drama that will end with the Pascal Mystery--the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is indeed surprising because God is surprising. It is indeed shocking, but isn't the Incarnation shocking as well? Isn't Jesus on the cross shocking? God identifies with us so much that he "appears" among us as a sinner in the person of Jesus. The Sinless One takes upon himself human sin. If this isn't shocking, I don't know what is!

This entry was posted on Sunday, January 9, 2011 at Sunday, January 09, 2011 and is filed under , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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