Saturday, January 22, 2011

Matthew 3

Hieronymus Bosch 090
In Matthew 3, we meet John the Baptist.

Since we are all products of our time, and I was a kid in the 1960s, I always envision John the Baptist as the quintessential Woodstock-era hippie. The New International Version describes him: "John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey." Hieronymus Bosch's interpretation is in the illustration above.

What would camel's hair clothing look like? Would it be comfortable? Is his attire and diet a sign of his religious asceticism? Or maybe he's more like Daniel Suelo, who gained notoriety for living in a cave near Moab, Utah, but lately has been wandering.

John the Baptist is a prophet, foretelling the coming of the Messiah. John condemns the "Pharisees and Sadduccees", the perennial hypocrites of the New Testament, calling them a brood of vipers.*

John was the original Bible-thumping, hell-quoting preacher. He uses an allegory to let them know what's coming to them: "The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire."

This is an important chapter for those Protestant denominations, such as Baptists, who contend that only adults (or at least older, thinking children) can choose to be baptized. It explains that baptism is for repentance, a sort of get-out-of-jail free card for those who sin. John describes Jesus, who as John puts it, "will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” With this allegory, Christians find out what happens to nonbelievers. They learn that all atheists, like me, are bound for hell. In reading Christian blogs, one gets the feeling that many Christians can hardly wait for the world to end so they can say "Na-na-na-na-na-na" at the atheists. Unless they happen to be related to one of us, they desire less to convert us than to jeer at us when the world ends.

The chapter ends with the baptism of Jesus. Again, advocates of full immersion point to the fact that Jesus was fully immersed as an adult to support their contention that sprinkling infants isn't right. On the other hand, Roman Catholics, among others, are infant sprinklers. For more information on the Roman Catholic perspective, you can read the article on baptism from the Catholic Encyclopedia. Among other insights, that article says that even heretics or Protestants can perform valid baptisms if they use the right words. That seems fairly accepting of them. The article states the position on infant baptism as "The fate of infants who die without baptism must be briefly considered here. The Catholic teaching is uncompromising on this point, that all who depart this life without baptism, be it of water, or blood, or desire, are perpetually excluded from the vision of God."

It's much easier to be a rational atheist than to follow the history of interpretations, exegesis, and dogmatic proclamations instituted by generations of men reading a few verses of the Bible.

Right after Jesus is baptized, an interesting event happens. The Bible says "he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.'”

God said, "Here he is. This guy did the right thing. He's my son" thus setting up Jesus to begin a cult. But again, Christians make it much more complicated than that. Many Christians believe that baptism by other men (or priests) can lead to a second baptism by the "spirit." Pentecostal Christians, for example, believe that this "spirit baptism" is demonstrated by speaking in tongues. We'll get into more about speaking in tongues later after the crucifixion when Jesus comes back.

Illustration: Hieronymus Bosch (ca. 1450(1450)–1516) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

*This makes me want to create a Biblical insults t-shirt. Brood of vipers would be a good start.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.