Faith is like swimming. Some Christians are divers. They totally commit themselves to the water. Others walk out until their ankles are covered, then their knees. Next they rub water on their arms, and slowly lower themselves all the way in, splash around for a short time and return to land. And a whole mess of churchfolk haven’t even gotten wet. They’re still on the beach as spectators.
In Jesus’ day, some people came out to hear and see John the Baptist, and they responded immediately and wholeheartedly to his call for repentance-baptism. Others were disdainful, not of the water but about plunging into a radical new life. The Pharisees and Sadducees, for instance. These pious, bedecked religionists showed up at the river, but not to repent. They came merely to observe, gossip and judge. They had it good. Wealth. Knowledge. Prestige. Why change?
We don’t like to think of ourselves as Pharisees, but if we’re honest, we do act like them when God invites us to take the “all-the-way plunge.” We want to hang out on the shores of religion without getting wet. We want the option of keeping some part of our lives dry, that area that we don’t want to dunk in the waters of consecration. In the Middle Ages, when the troops of Charlemagne were baptized, they immersed all but their sword hands. The soldier raised palm and fingers above water so he could still slaughter with impunity.
Let’s admit it: the prospect of total commitment to God is disquieting. Most of us want to maintain control, or at least an illusion of it. If we give everything over to the Lord, He might make us do something unusual or uncomfortable. We’re like the pig who was strolling along the country lane with the hen. They pass a church with a marquee sign that asks, “WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP THE POOR?” The hen immediately responded, “We could feed them bacon and eggs!” The pig shook his head, grunting, “No way!” “Why not?” the hen asked. “Because for you it only requires a donation,” the pig replied, “but for me, it means total commitment.”
So we poke a toe into the water, then draw back with a flutter of fear, a ripple of reservation.
“John, what do you mean by repentance? Change, you say? Hm. What will this change look like? Will it inconvenience me? I’m busy, you know. Does it mean I’ll have to give up some old ways? Well, I might be able to give up some, but others….what’s that, John? Total commitment to Christ? Giving up all control to Him? Won’t my friends and family think I’m a religious nut? Let me just splash around a little bit, hang around in the shallow end. And don’t get my pocketbook wet, either. Keep my watch dry, too. The church is always asking for time and money. You see, John, there are some things that I simply don’t want dunked. So let me have, oh, just half a baptism. Better yet, a quarter of a baptism. Only a drop of change, if you please.”
And so we dawdle on the shore, secretly wanting to dive into a bold new life but keeping our feet anchored to familiar ground, our anxiety about a complete change of heart suppressing our longing to be transformed.
What can spring us loose? What will it take for us to plunge all the way into the river of faith and commitment?
The only thing that would free us to charge into the water is if someone plunged in before us… yes, that’s it! If we could witness another person go in – someone in whom we could trust, someone with confidence and authority, someone who has completely thrown himself into the baptismal waters and emerged in victory – then we would go in.
Look! See who is rising out of the Jordan, drenched from head to toe. Heaven parts above him, and the dove of the Spirit lights upon his shoulder!
Diving picture courtesy of d3designs via morguefile.com