Many early Christian communities had their own unique Gospels, covering various aspects of the Lord's life and interpreting His words. Here we share some of what one community understood about Jesus' baptism.
told by Deborah
Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan river to be baptized by him. John tried to stop him: “I need to be baptized by you, why have you come to me?”
Jesus answered, “This is how it needs to be now, to set things right.” So John agreed.
When Jesus was baptized, as he came up out of the water, all at once he saw the heavens open and the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him; and he heard a voice from heaven, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am delighted.”
As soon as Christ went down into the water [of baptism] he came out laughing at everything in this world, not because he thought it a trifle, but out of contempt; whoever wants to enter the kingdom of heaven will do so.
Whoever despises everything of this world, scorns it as a trifle, will emerge laughing.
~ The Gospel of Philip
Written by a member of a Christian community in the early third century A.D., the Gospel of Philip interprets Jesus’ experience of his baptism as an enlightenment, a sudden awareness that “all is dross;” a contempt for the struggles and striving-afters that consume our daily lives. And, we are told, the Lord laughed out loud.
Further, the author says, that’s how you get into heaven: by “despising everything of this world.” Now, there is some truth in this saying, in that an attitude of letting-go can lead us to more peaceful lives. The constant, anxious pursuit of “worldly” rewards and treasures is exhausting, and, in the end, brings small — and temporary — satisfaction. Realizing that so much of what we strive for are mere “trifles,” and that our concerns and “crises” are often minor and occasionally absurd, helps us to put our lives into perspective. It is an attitude that encourages us to step back, to take a breath, and think about what really matters.
It may even cause us to laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of the situation.
On the other hand, not “everything” of this world should be despised or scorned.
There is a long tradition of human beings hiding behind sarcasm and contempt in order to protect ourselves from our fears and our feelings. Often it is presented as the “intelligent” viewpoint: as “cool logic” and “clear thinking” and the “reasonable” way of looking at things. Life on earth is a fluke, our world is deadly, sparse, and meaningless; only the strong — and the smart — will survive.
It’s a safe and comfortable belief system, offering release from any hopes and most sorrows. Our life here is ridiculous and irrelevant, merely a charade, a farce, a badly-scripted performance, “and all the men and women merely players.” Don’t get caught up in trying too hard, in reaching too far, in dreaming, hoping, yearning … and certainly don’t care too much: that can only bring heartbreak.
They’re right, of course. To care is to suffer; love leads to heartbreak.
And Jesus certainly didn’t laugh about that.
He did not find our fears or our failings ridiculous or petty; instead, the Lord Christ waded directly into life in human form, fully and completely; experiencing our joys and our sorrows; living as we live, loving as we love, mourning as we mourn, dying as we die. He did not hold back his love or his compassion, but gave of Himself — all of Himself — to us.
And that is why I think this ancient Gospel is correct. Not in the interpretation, but in the description of Jesus’ response to his baptism. I can imagine the Lord bounding up out of the water like a dolphin — laughing with irrepressible joy and absolute delight, ready to take on the world. This was the beginning of his grand adventure; now was the time to start setting things right.
Artists and sculptors, composers and theologians throughout the ages have depicted the Lord as serious, determined, suffering, grieving … But he was far, far more than that: a man of passion and enthusiasm, a man filled with hope and courage, a man of love and compassion and great happiness. Jesus was not exclusively the “Man of Sorrows,” but most certainly a laughing Christ, as well.
By omitting — and thereby forgetting — that fact, we Christians have tended to focus on severity and seriousness over joy and jubilation. Of course we do smile, and are often happy, but mention our faith, and we turn into pillars of …. well, let’s call it “solemnity.” My, how earnest and determined these Christians are: not a trace of whimsy or comic relief, only dead seriousness. Emphasis on the “dead.”
“Silly” originally meant “holy”: it described the worshipper’s attitude of awed humility toward the Divine; beguiled by God, a kind of innocent giddiness. Over time the word came to signify foolishness, goofiness; inexplicable, illogical thinking or conduct. We might describe it as a quality of light-heartedness, a tendency toward laughter and irrepressible joy, to unreasonable hope, and embedded happiness.
Hmmmm. Maybe it’s time to reclaim the divine quality of silliness in our lives.
As we remember our Lord’s baptism, let us remember ours, as well. Shouldn’t that be a cause for laughter? Isn’t that ridiculously Good News? Isn’t it positively absurd that God should love us so much, should seek us so passionately, should come to us in human form, should welcome us into the holy kingdom? Doesn’t that make you at least want to giggle?
In the days ahead, let us remember the story of Christ’s laughter as he came splashing out of the river Jordan; imagine the joy he felt at having come to meet God’s people — his delight in bringing us such fabulous Good News. Let that joy trickle down into your soul, and tickle your spirit; let it bring a smile to your face and silliness into your life.
May Christ’s joy accompany you wherever you go,
Be just a little bit silly. Every day.