Reading Barth Backwards, IV/4: Jesus Confesses His Sins (?!?) [Baptism with Water, #5]

Continuing on from yesterday’s post regarding Jesus submitting himself to John’s baptism in solidarity with the rest of humanity, Barth continues by suggesting, scandalously, that John’s baptism was an opportunity for Jesus to confess his own sins. [But wait, there’s more.]

“With them he thus confessed His sins. His sins? If we do not say this, we question and even deny the totality of His self-giving to men, and therewith the totality of His self-giving to God. We say that he had Himself baptized with the rest only improperly, contrary to the meaning of John’s preaching and baptism in a demonstration which had which had neither truth nor necessity for Him. We say at root that this was just a theatrical show. But it was not a theatrical show.” (59)

But Barth is rhetorically leading the reader, not to a heretical negation of the sinlessness of Jesus, but rather to an embrace of the idea that even at the beginning of his messianic vocation, Jesus was taking upon himself the sins of the people of Israel and confessing them  as Mediator before YHWH.

“The seriousness with which others, frightened before God and setting their hope in Him alone, confessed their sins, is infinitely surpassed here by the divine earnestness with which this One, when faced by the sins of all others, their confusions and corruptions, their big and little acts of ungodliness, did not let these sins be theirs, did not regard, bewail or judge them from a distance with tacit or open accusation, did not simply characterize them as sins by His own otherness, but as the Son of His Father, elected and ordained from all eternity to be the Brother of these fatal brethren, caused them to be His own sins, confessed them as such, and therewith confessed that he was baptized in prospect of God’s kingdom, judgment and forgiveness. No one who came to the Jordan was as laden and afflicted as He. No one was as needy. No one was so utterly human, because so wholly fellow-human. No one confessed his sins so sincerely, so truly as his own, without side-glances at others. He stands alone in this, He who was elected and ordained from all eternity to partake of the sin of all in His own person, to bear its shame and curse in the place of all, to be the man responsible for all, and as such, wholly theirs, to live and act and suffer. This is what Jesus began to do when He had Himself baptized by John with all the others” (59).



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