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malcolm chamberlain

musings about the emerging church, mission and contemporary culture...

God is at large, intimately involved in his world in ways that the church is maybe just waking up to!

celebrating lack of knowledge...

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Last night I was in a group in which we were invited to meditate for some time on Matthew's account of the baptism of Jesus (Mt 3:13-17), trying to imagine ourselves in the scene and reflect on given questions (such as... what do you see and hear? What are you thinking? How would you respond to Jesus coming over to you after this event and asking what you want?...)

For me this was a fascinating experience (maybe I was just in the right mood for it last night!) which highlighted something quite profound. In imagining myself into the scene, I tried to shake off my received and understood Christian tradition and theology (which is of course impossible) to attempt to imagine what it would have been like then. Apart from initially wondering whether I'd have even stuck around long enough to witness Jesus' baptism at all, as my cynicism would have probably got the better of me when I saw that 'weird religious nut' (John the Baptist) preaching and dunking, I realised that I was left with more questions by this event than answers. For example... who is this man? why does he seem so extraordinary (the dove and voice from heaven thing for a start) when he's gone through a 'sinner's baptism' like the rest? what is he going to do next?...

As I thought a bit more about these questions, three things in particular struck me...
  1. Jesus was not afraid of being misunderstood by people. He voluntarily went through John's baptism which was a baptism for the forgiveness of sins. So in this act he was seemingly communicating "I'm just like the rest of you with the same need of forgiveness" even though the 'signs' that followed suggested that he was anything but 'like the rest of us'! My guess is that very few, if any, of the people leaving that scene would have 'got it' and Jesus didn't seem to bother about this. In fact, have any of us 2000 years on fully 'got it' so to speak?
  2. This event is not alone in this in the gospels. It seems that many, if not all, of the key events concerning Jesus would have actually generated far more questions in the minds of the onlookers than given them answers; far more scope to misunderstand than to correctly understand.
  3. On the one hand I could begin to answer my own questions from what I have grown to understand about Jesus, his mission, etc. I know who Jesus is... Son of God, God Incarnate, the Christ... but on the other hand I don't know who Jesus is at all. I've only grasped the minutest details about who he is. Likewise with my questions about why he was baptised in this way... on the one hand I know the theology but on the other hand I'm not sure I've even started to grasp the significance of this event.
All of this brings me on to my 'thought for the day' (and since you don't get these very often you'd better make it last for far more than a day!)...

Our knowledge is always counter-balanced by our lack of knowledge. On the one hand we know but on the other we really don't know. Maybe that's where we've so often gone wrong in mission; we've been very happy to shout from the rooftops about what we (think we) know, but very reluctant to acknowledge our lack of knowledge. And I don't know about anyone else, but my own experience is that the closer I walk with God the more I am aware of my lack of knowledge. So I'm ready to shout about my lack of knowledge too; more than that, I'm ready to celebrate my lack of knowledge, because it's here that I find room for wonder, awe and an encounter with the unfathomable God.

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 10:17 AM

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