Family business

There once was a time – and those of us over 50 will surely remember – when supermarkets were not as common as they are today. Bread came from the baker, meat from the butcher, and all the rest came from the grocery store down the street. We didn’t have those gigantic DIY-warehouses at the other end of town, instead we went to the hardware store a few blocks away. Our hats, shawls, sweaters were not ordered on the internet but knitted by mothers and grannies and the wool came from this cute little shop, run by a lovely elderly lady who was ever so willing to help us out with whatever was new or difficult to us.
We knew these people by name and by face, and they knew us. And that’s how we like it best. That is how, both on a personal and a professional level, our need for reliability is met.
How different are these enormous superstores. They are quite anonymous, and that goes both ways. For them we are just figures in their marketing statistics. For us they are impenetrable organizations run by managers we hardly know and who are replaced whenever the board decides to.
How different indeed, as local shops – unless they have the misfortune of being swallowed by such a super chain – are most of the time taken over by sons, daughters, grandchildren. After all we don’t call them family businesses for nothing.
Of such a transfer we hear in the gospel that is read in most churches this weekend. Peculiar thing is that most people don’t know this story from hearing or reading but from the many paintings that were made of this event: the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan. Although the main features of the event are there of course – two men in the river, the fierce looking guy being John the Baptist, white dove representing the Holy Spirit – something very important is missing in all of those pictures. And this is so because this very vital and essential part can by no means be depicted in a two dimensional image. To grasp this most essential part we need ears and words, for what we are about to hear is Gods own voice saying: this is my beloved son.
This moment is a true turning point, in more than one way. With this being appointed there and then, Jesus officially takes up the work he was sent for. Until now he had lived quite a low profile life we know little about. It seems that with this beginning of the public life of Jesus, God the father is about to retire. For that is the other aspect of the turning point, one we are seldom aware of. This moment – whether we follow Mark, Matthew or Luke – this moment is the very last time in the whole of biblical history that Gods voice is heard. Many times before God has spoken to numerous people in many different ways. And yes, after this moment a few more times heaven will open and people will see God in all his glory. But in this event, the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan, it is really the very last time for God to speak.
Therefore I think we may rightly understand this moment as a handing over the business and putting the son in charge of the work the father had started so long, long ago.
And as is usually the case when the next generation takes over, things changes. Questionable changes sometimes, that may put our trust and loyalty to the test. In this story however, the changes are all for the best, because they are the fulfilment of age old promises people have been hoping and waiting for for such a long time. The business of God continues. The caring and healing, the bringing people to light and freedom, the restoring of life, continues, and not just like that. From now on it is done on a whole new level, with God the son being even more close than God the father ever was.
The God that once split the seas is now in a boat with his friends, comforting and reassuring them. The God who miraculously fed his people with quails and manna in the desert, is now in their midst sharing his bread with them. The God that could only be seen on the back or sensed in a gentle breeze by a few, is now visibly, tangibly present. Healing people by touching their eyes, ears, mouths. Bringing them back to life by simply taking their hand, by lovingly calling their name ‘Lazarus, Lazarus, come out my friend’.
Never before in history has God been so intimately near to us as he is now in this divine human.

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